This year’s Upfront season is nearing its end, and networks have, once again, spent several weeks touting their premium inventory. The Upfronts remain star-studded, can’t-miss events but, in recent years, they’ve been marked by networks’ heightened sense of urgency to prove TV has what it takes to remain relevant.
In the race to stay stop of mind (in the realms of attracting audiences, critical acclaim and ad dollars), a number of networks are stepping up their Upfront presentations to incorporate data, tech and multi-platform programming. Frankly, networks know they have to talk about these things, but in some cases, that’s all it is – lots of talk and little follow through.
How can advertisers break through the noise to ensure they’re getting the best TV buys possible? Here’s what to keep in mind for Upfront buys, or any type of TV buy, for that matter:
- Networks’ Identity Crisis
Networks (grouping all content owners under this term for the sake of simplicity) are increasingly feeling the pressure to prove their programming is high on viewers’ must-watch lists. And, as the case may be, a priority for advertisers to buy.
This makes sense. Competition is fierce and consumers have an unprecedented level of power to influence which shows are truly at the head of the pack. Networks are aware that a new show could very well become the next genre-defying, buzzed-about series that sweeps the Emmys.
Even if it seems like Apple TV+ and Disney+ will be joining an already crowded space, we all know that many more similar announcements lie ahead.
Suffice to say, networks are having a bit of an identity crisis. And there are a few things to remember in order to properly address it:
- They need to clearly define, if not redefine, their brand. Networks have to decide if they want to go “all in” and focus on a specific genre, diversify content to appeal to additional demographics or broaden their reach altogether by producing more “general” entertainment.
- Execs are looking to strike a sense of balance between the old and the new, leaning on their networks’ more nostalgic reputations, while also embracing more advanced data-driven insights. But they need to understand that the former doesn’t matter without the latter.
- With so much M&A, networks also have to be resilient and prove they can still provide value if undergoing such a change. Not to mention, considering how, when and to what extent (it’s not really a matter of “if” anymore) they will incorporate streaming.
- Networks, in general, are becoming more invested in bridging the gap between linear and digital, such as having content that allows for cross-platform buying and selling. This is vital, as networks need to keep up with advertisers used to digital’s more dynamic optimization capabilities.
- The Current Playing Field
Rule number one for determining whether a particular program or the network is a good fit, is knowing the networks as they are now, not as they were five years or even one year ago.
Believe it or not, networks are changing that quickly. Over the last few years, multiple networks have undergone rebrands, ranging from minor tweaks in programming schedules to major overhauls. Following the conclusion of “Bates Motel” in April 2017, A&E committed to becoming a completely non-fiction network. In early 2018, Spike TV transformed into the Paramount Network. Oxygen has become a true-crime focused network.
Those are just three examples, not even including the amount of M&A the industry has seen in recent years. The ad buy you made a year ago may no longer work because the network may no longer be the same in terms of tone and content.
As we’ve often discussed, it’s imperative to understand that TV itself has also evolved into a true performance-marketing channel. To guarantee your TV ads are effective, it’s not enough to simply find the best match for your brand regarding genre or program. Make sure you’re continually using measurement and optimization during a campaign to ensure your ads are proving performance.