FreeWheel Reflections On 2021 Upfront/NewFront Inflections

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Has the national TV advertising marketplace reached a milestone inflection point in time for this year's Upfront buying spree? You bet, according to the participating panelists of FreeWheel's latest virtual roundtable event.

"The big transformation is all about how consumers watch content via your distribution platforms," declared Kevin Arrix, senior vice president at DISH Media. That fast-growing distribution platform of choice, Arrix and five other executive representatives of the advertising and TV programming universes connected for this roundtable concurred, is connected TV products and the programming services they bring viewers. The inflection point: Advertisers and agencies are ready to hike how much money they allocate to connected TV devices and services.

No question that's the takeaway Geoff Wolinetz, FreeWheel's senior vice president and head of supply revenue, holds off moderating the event. "Linear is still large, of course, and we'll never understate the vastness of that," he said. "However, it's clear that consumers are shifting their behavior to connected TV. The dollars are going to flow to where the consumers are. What publishers are doing to make themselves more competitive is beginning to offer (their content) in bundles across multiple platforms. Their advertisers should be able to take greater advantage of those multiple platforms."

FreeWheel, Comcast's advanced advertising technology and marketplace operation, presented this roundtable the week following the parade of 2021 Digital Content NewFronts, which was also the week before the annual Upfront presentations from the likes of Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, Fox, Disney and WarnerMedia (now on course to leave current parent AT&T and merge with Discovery, Inc.). Also participating in this roundtable were Matterkind Addressable Innovation Vice President Larene Mantel; Mindshare managing director and investment business lead Matt Dinerstein; AMC Networks Advanced Advertising Senior Vice President Evan Adlman; Horizon Media Advanced Video Senior Vice President Alex Stone, and Brendan Garrone, vice president of programming partnerships at NBCUniversal.

Wolinetz picked up a second major takeaway on the matter of programmatic ad sales, a topic addressed near the end of the roundtable. "Programmatic advertising is going to be a bigger part of this Upfront than it has been in past years," he said. "Advertisers are looking, as they have been for a long time, to continue to reinforce the need for transparency and shift to (internet protocol-driven) platforms like connected TV."

For that programmatic environment to happen, Stone suggested, guarantees on audience delivery must become standard procedure. "I'm very hopeful we'll see more guarantee-style deals," he said. "This world is evolving so quickly."

Mantel isn't clear that the environment is fully aligned within the advertising industry. "The P word is a swear word as far as we're concerned," she insisted. "You need to look at things more holistically. It's important to keep a better-together mentality."

"Programmatic doesn't have to be a dirty word," Wolinetz countered. "(Agencies) want to make sure they turn programmatic into what it should be, which is simply a different way to transact."

As more programmatic business is conducted with guarantees, the process will gain a leap in credibility, Wolinetz added. "Automation of these campaigns is not a bad thing," he said. "We want to make sure we're reducing friction between those transactions, to make sure that people can take advantage of these channels in a way that allows them to do what they need to do."

"We're a programmatic-first organization," Adlman noted with a few minutes left in the event. "We're all in."

A possible breakout of interactive advertising campaigns for connected TV-distributed programming services -- at least for the pack of mega-content offerings from Peacock to Paramount+ -- was not among the topics discussed at length during the event. Wolinetz is bullish that this Upfront season, there will be more sponsors and agencies willing "to dip their toe" in various interactive formats, from giving viewers a choice of ads to watch during a given break to ordering goods and services, all through their remote or, increasingly, their voice.

"It all comes back to relevance," he noted. "How relevant is the ad, and how first-time attention grabbing (is it)? If somebody can interact with an ad, and actually do the whole transaction in the (TV) ecosystem, that's the benefit of having an IP-enabled direct-to-consumer platform of your own. You control the break, you control the format, you control the transaction methodology, you get your cut across the board and everybody wins -- including the consumer, who will get the fruits of that transaction in the mailbox or at the front door."

To watch the full roundtable conversation, which is segmented out into the three main topics of investment trends, CTV viewership and programmatic, please click here.

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