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A Shift in Strategy

Mar 2, 2008  •  Post A Comment

After trying their hands at upfront dog-and-pony shows last year, most digital networks—including search engines, Internet TV sites and video-on-demand networks—have scaled back their upfront strategies this year. They’re opting instead for one-on-one meetings with the media and ad agencies who buy TV advertising.
The minimalist approach, which is in stark contrast to the broadcast networks’ elaborate annual upfront presentations to ad buyers, is due to several factors. Some digital networks said they are reluctant to draw attention to their “otherness” via a specialized upfront and would rather simply pitch their programs as part of the normal course of business. Others said their broadband upfronts in years past were designed as one-time-only introductory events. Also, some experts say there’s simply no need for a broadband upfront since Web buying is done on a year-round basis.
That’s different from the broadcast TV world, where commercial buying is based on the false demand created by a limited supply. Essentially, the limited inventory in broadcast buying allows networks to create an urgency in the buying community to snatch up prime-time spots during the May upfront season.
“We don’t need to buy in the same way,” said Adam Kasper, senior VP and director of digital media at media agency Media Contacts. “The interest isn’t really there for a broadband upfront.”
While advertisers are keenly interested in broadband, they don’t need to rush out and buy inventory during the spring, he explained. “If you think about the reason the upfront exists in the first place, because there is a finite amount of inventory for the dollars advertisers want to place, then with online it’s not really true. There is not a finite amount of online impressions, so there is not a finite marketplace,” he said.
Hard to Justify
VOD network Music Choice, now in 30 million homes, toyed with doing an upfront a few years ago, but has decided that one-on-one meetings with key advertisers and buying agencies was a better strategy, said Christina Tancredi, executive VP of Music Choice. “We haven’t been able to figure out how to rationalize a big upfront presentation,” she said.
Nor does she want to draw attention to Music Choice as a “separate” type of buy. “We believe long-term buying has to be tied into TV buying, and that as a media planner you can assess Music Choice compared to any other network, not as a separate thing.”
Yahoo also has pulled back this year after hosting upfront presentations last year. “Yahoo is not hosting an ‘in-front’ in the same way it did in 2007, because last year’s event was specifically designed to educate media buyers about the benefits of advertising online. We accomplished that,” said Lauren Meller, a Yahoo! spokeswoman.
“Yahoo has been and will continue to conduct smaller ‘in-fronts’ in much more intimate settings where we provide advertisers the opportunity to lock in inventory for the year. In these meetings, we also help develop unique programs that can involve rich media, video or just more targeted ads,” Ms. Meller added.
Google hosted a small event in New York late last month for advertisers and agencies. However, the event was not upfront-related, but was one of a regular series of events the company hosts for advertisers throughout the year, a company representative said.
Direct Approach
Online TV network Next New Networks considered hosting an upfront, but decided to opt for direct client and agency meetings, the company said.
Break Media is still evaluating its upfront plans. “We are hesitant to throw a big event in competition with the better-funded network parties,” said Keith Richman, CEO of Break.
But some digital networks are going all out. Ripe Digital, the on-demand network aimed at male viewers 18 to 34, hosted a party in New York last week to unveil its new programming lineup for the year, said Ryan Magnussen, the company’s CEO.
“Most of our new shows are now celebrity-driven, not bikini[-driven],” said Mr. Magnussen. “We call it in-front because it is before the upfronts. It also gives us our own time of year without clutter from the traditional networks.”

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