Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, the Chicago-based dueling film critics who became the gold standard of entertainment commentary on TV, would have had a field day with Mediaocean's recent and somewhat unusual virtual event. The company's "Up Close to the Upfront" gathering of seven executives on different sides of the TV advertising marketplace used Siskel and Ebert's iconic way of judging movies to provoke conversation over how the 2021-22 Upfront process will turn out.
Instead of throwing out topics and letting the participants take their reactions in any direction, Mediaocean President Lance Neuhauser asked everyone to vote thumbs up or down on pairs of statements, then defend or explain their votes. The opening pair of statements:
Linear TV is faring well in the Upfronts.
Ad budgets are flocking to streaming.
Five of the panelists, including Katie Klein, PHD's U.S. President of Integrated Investment, and Cara Lewis, Dentsu Amplifi Executive Vice President and head of U.S. Media Investment, had their thumbs in the up position on the linear TV statement. One had thumbs down and another abstained. The second statement was the first of several with thumbs up the unanimous choice.
"Linear TV still has a place in advertisers' plans," Klein explained. "You still get scale. You still get brand safety. Conversations on diversity in spending continue. Your average consumer watches content on a big TV screen." However, Lewis' up thumb over linear TV's status with Upfront sales came with a caveat. "Faring well is what?" she questioned. Linear networks "are faring well because of the (price) inflation networks will charge."
As far as spending on programming services that stream -- through smart TV sets and connected devices that, in the cases of Samsung, LG and Vizio, are seeking Upfront dollars for the first time -- "some clients are there, some have to grow their inventory (to accommodate smart TV campaigns)," added Lewis.
On to the next pair of statements:
Networks are effectively packaging their linear and digital inventory together.
We can effectively transact against advanced audiences, and target demos beyond age and gender.
All but one panelist had thumbs down on the first statement, with everyone thumbs up on the second. Klein and Lewis joined in the thumbs down, then up result.
"We're not seeing progress in effective packaging," declared Horizon Media Senior Vice President Samantha Rose, who oversees advanced TV and video solutions business. "We want to see more consistency. There is momentum on the transaction front through a lot of collaboration and partnerships."
Kelly Abcarian, NBCUniversal's Executive Vice President of Measurement and Impact Advertising and Partnerships, offered a different angle on the packaging issue. "We're doing a lot of work bringing together cross-platform measurement. Huge progress has been made. I'm very optimistic about the path forward through initiatives like Open AP."
"The consumer is into content anywhere," added Lewis. "We as buyers have to leap across the landscape in the right way."
One pair of statements elicited more contrarian reaction than the others. One touted cross-platform measurement as this year's most important Upfront measurement metric. The other classified business outcomes (retail sales results/consumer behavior shifts/service usage) as the 2021 metric. Five of the seven panelists had up thumbs on the first statement, with two pointing their thumbs downward. In the matter of business outcomes, three panelists were in the up column, two down (including Lewis) and two were undecided (including Klein).
"In order to best measure business outcomes, we have to focus on breaking down the media silos and measure the incremental reach you get from streaming and digital channels," Klein insisted. On the other hand, Lewis labeled cross-platform measurement the year's top metric because "you have to get there for frequency reasons," she said. "There are so many different factors playing into business outcomes. Not every single (advertiser) category can use it as a metric right now."
Before going their separate ways, Mediaocean's group of executives agreed that the next 12 months of TV advertising sales activity will be exciting -- and terrifying. "We welcome the challenges," said Klein. "They make for an opportunity to create more solutions for individual client needs."
Also on hand with their thumbs up/down declarations and explanations: Mondelez International global marketing data lead Michael Lampert; Roku head of local sales Kristin Wnuk, and Andre Swanston, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at TruOptik.
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