Money coming out of a TV

Buyers and TV ad sales chiefs have several ideas about how this year’s upfront marketplace should evolve.
Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin

Last week, Adweek asked top TV execs, ad sales chiefs and buyers to look back on 2020 and reflect on the biggest things they’ve learned since the pandemic, what about the business has changed permanently because of Covid-19.

And given the enormous changes to the upfront marketplace this year—Covid-19 forced media companies to cancel their in-person events, and most networks shifted to a staggered upfront, with some clients negotiating in the typical broadcast year window, and others opting for a calendar year upfront—we also wondered what that might mean for 2021’s negotiations.

So we posed the same question to TV ad sales chiefs and buyers alike: How would you like to see the upfront marketplace change in the coming year? Here’s what they told us.

Dani Benowitz, U.S. president, Magna: For 2021, I would like to see less reliance on age/sex demos and more reliance on audiences for currency in the upfront marketplace. Additionally, I would like to see more outcome-based guarantees with deals that deliver a pre-determined KPI based on ROI, and I want to see significant strides made in offering our clients more flexibility across the board in the marketplace. Lastly, any future changes to ratings measurement and currencies should require alignment from both markets, buy-side and sell-side, prior to marketplace negotiations.

Geoffrey Calabrese, chief investment officer, Omnicom Media Group: The first thing I would like to see the industry do is bring back the true commercial benefit of the upfront within the linear TV space. What we have seen over the past few years is a pervasive over-forecasting of inventory supply by our network partners. This in turn, has led those buys to less efficient, leaving advertisers with chronic underdelivery and networks accumulating liability at incredible rates. The result is misinformed supply/demand forecasts that lead to longer negotiating timelines and a reduced value proposition of space.   

The second change needed, is the continued momentum toward higher flexibility and agility to match the needs of our advertisers. We saw great change toward this in our last upfront and it is my belief that our partners recognize this now as “must have” as opposed to a “nice to have”—especially now that the majority of them are mass conglomerates with multi-channel offerings at scale, each with the ability to offer high liquidity and optionality for our clients, as we get deeper in to a digital-native world.

Dave Campanelli, co-chief investment officer, Horizon Media: I believe we need to get away from the traditional three weeks of negotiation and a cloud of dust upfront that we’ve been accustomed to. It dramatically favors the sellers by applying artificial pressure and a sense of “missing out.” “Buying ahead of time” versus “the upfront” will still maintain significant benefits, but done in a non-synchronized time frame up to each agency/client and what fits their needs will benefit the process.

JP Colaco, head of advertising sales, WarnerMedia: We would like to have an honest dialogue with marketers that is less transactional and more about big ideas. We’ve brought together all of our incredible brands and intellectual properties to develop massive possibilities. We all need to recognize where the end consumer is going and capitalize on opportunities that exist at the intersection of powerful content, progressive technology and brand impact. Time is the new currency with consumers, together we will earn it and spend it.

Carrie Drinkwater, executive director of integrated investments, Mediahub: Make sure media companies prepare agencies for the changes they are going to implement.