Upfront 2016

“The Upfront has taken some interesting turns this year,” Myers began, asking the panelists, “What do you see happening?”

Hiltz responded, “The Upfront is the social currency of our industry. It doesn't matter what platform or channel … we are platform agnostic when it comes to investment. But the Upfront becomes the jump start.”

“The Upfront marketplace is irrelevant to what the overall market really is,” Scanzoni countered. “Last year we saw Upfront market declines but this year we expect to see low to single digit growth. There is change and disruption but the fundamentals of our business are not changing.”

“There is more of a shift from national TV into digital,” Benowitz noted. “We have been looking at digital holistically for a while as a way to reach consumers.”

The Importance of Data and Closed Loop Initiatives

Is data a game changer? “We are all talking about data,” Scanzoni said. “But there is nothing new about [it]. Yes, it is more sophisticated and there is more first and third party data. But we’ve used data in TV for many years. We are doing it better -- it is more objective and reliable -- but there is no nirvana here using data.”

But data is being collected and leveraged in new ways. “The closed loop is new,” Myers said. “There are closed loop initiatives from companies like NBCU, Viacom and Turner. Do they have scale and are they sustainable?”

“If I were a seller I would do exactly that, but as a buyer I do not see the value in closed loops,” Scanzoni responded. “You have to have a consistent data set to apply to a full TV portfolio. The correlations are different between Kantar and Nielsen, for example. They point you in different directions. You need a consistent dataset and have to find a way to optimize across vendors. Sellers have to work as a group but that is impossible because they have their own self interests. Agencies need to choose data and do their own correlations.”

Automation vs. Human Relationships

Programmatic continues to loom large over the industry.  “Programmatic has the ability to help decision-making over multiple media touch points, which is great,” Williams said. “Investments become more efficient and it is a true value proposition.”

But what about the balance between sales automation and the human relationships that are the cornerstone of our business?  “Relationships are important if not more important in the industry now,” Penski replied. “We have added people to our staff because to buy programmatically now requires even more people. Keeping talent is a big challenge for us. We are still a very human based industry.”

“It is not a matter of traditional versus programmatic,” Benowitz added. “There is room for both. We look at content, engagement and watercooler talk. But the ability to buy auto intenders is certainly where we should be headed. It won't go all one way or the other. It still takes two people talking to hear the passion in their voices. If we lose that we are in a different place.”

Looking Ahead

Between the impact of data and programmatic on creative and consumers, the industry continues to evolve and innovate. Some final words of wisdom were offered by the panel.

“Don't be afraid,” Benowitz advised. “There is a lot going on but there is room to do business.”

“There is still a need for humans in our ecosystem,” Penski said. “We must continue to work together and find ways to bring competitors together to work together. It is not just about data.”

The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet management or associated bloggers.