The End of the TV Upfront?

June 2020- No big parties, no celebrity photo ops, no late nights, no trip to New York, less hype about new shows, few(er) clients making commitments to linear TV a year out (with no media plan), no rushed buying with “revised rate cards” going up every week (with audiences going the other way).

Has the antiquated and overhyped TV Upfront, which saw 60-70% of annual TV dollars invested in a 4 week period, finally gasped it’s last breath?

If so, what is the new buying and selling process? How are “traditional” broadcasters evolving and what are the key takeaways from the Non-Upfront.

TV and Video Futures

We evolved the discussion from TV buying to Video buying 10 years ago to better reflect the reality of consumer behavior. While “linear” TV remains the cornerstone of driving reach quickly and coverage for any video buy, each year as linear TV audiences decline, audiences must be repatriated via an increased spend allocation to VOD, ad-supported streaming services that don’t require a cable subscription (eg CTV Throwback, Hayyu, GEM), YouTube, Facebook video and others.

TV is projected to see a 15.6% decline in advertising investment in 2020 (eMarketer).

Most of the spend decline has happened in the months April through July; no sports playoffs, no Olympics, and many categories /clients are cutting, reducing or shifting TV spend to the fall or to digital. However, with sports (NHL, NBA, MLS playoffs, Golf and tennis Majors) returning in August/September and the easing of COVID-19 related brakes on ad spending, the fall YOY investment levels with TV broadcasters will be similar to fall 2019 (-1 to -3%).

In fact, the same eMarketer forecast has TV rebounding 9% in 2021 vs 2020, a net loss of 6% vs 2019.

What Innovation did the Non–TV Upfront Bring?

First, it is important to note that 70% of Canadian households still have a Pay TV subscription (i.e. cable or satellite) and 30% of those services are now delivered via IPTV Next generation Platforms (like Rogers Ignite). Although penetration has been declining 2-3% annually, Pay TV HH’s are still dominant and provide the basis for any video buy (note: Gen –Z target or budget limitations may drive a non-linear TV strategy). Long-form video (i.e. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, Crave) has grown quickly to 20% of Video viewing, however, most aren’t ad-supported, so it has actually increased demand, and costs, for the audiences to Linear TV /AVOD.

Major English Broadcasters Agree on Audience Segments

In a truly Canadian collaboration, Bell, Rogers and Corus have all agreed to sell inventory based on the same 19 Environics audience segments, with the first collaboration anywhere in the world. This will allow media buyers to buy near-live inventory via a self-serve platform (Cynch for Corus and Rogers, SAM for Bell) against a much richer profile that incorporates behavioural data with traditional demographics for a more robust picture of the viewing audience. 

Bell is also offering the ability to buy digital and outdoor against the same in-depth segments, as well as a first in market TV Attribution service which will report TV impact on website visitors.

VOD, in App and Streaming Options

All major broadcasters continue to provide options to buy their programming delivered via an app/online (you must authenticate that you have a Pay TV subscription). There are now more opportunities to reach cord-cutters via services like CTV Throwback, Corus shows on YouTube or STACKTV and connected TV (Samsung).

VOD viewing continues to rise and Bell, Corus, and Rogers have more hours, more shows and more geo coverage allowing them to extend unique reach by up to 17% over a Linear only buy in an on-demand, non-skippable, reduced commercial load environment.

CBC’s Gem offers Canadians various levels of programming. All Canadians can access, without any paid subscription, the same level of programs offered through conventional television. A free authenticated subscription (ad-supported) unlocks on-demand current and past seasons, live streams of CBC TV (including local channels). Further paid premium subscriptions allow for early access to exclusive content. During Covid-19, Gem’s average weekly video views soared by 84% (mostly on the strength of news content).

How Do We Envision a Better “Non-Upfront” Market?

Our True Media approach is more about partnerships and is driven by client needs and client focused buying.

Clients have an increased need for agility which means we will pursue more flexibility in buying commitments, cancellation clauses, shifts in timing and platforms.

Every discussion should start with sharing business KPI’s and then a collaboration on measurement strategies, and on innovation. Agencies should share the creative strategy (and ideally the concepts/execution) to better amplify the message in the right content.

Negotiations happen once a quarter, with a monthly optimization, across Linear and Digital, AVOD and OTT, seamlessly and simultaneously with, soon we hope, one standard measurement.

For more information on how True Media can help you reach your audience and meet your goals, contact us.

As president at True Media Canada, Bruce Neve is setting a new standard for how media is approached and purchased, and his commitment to advertising is changing the way the growth of Canadian-first companies is addressed. He brings with him more than thirty years of experience leading major media agencies; driving strategy, planning and buying across all platforms for both English and French Canada.

Sports Post Pandemic

I confess, usually in a typical week at this time of year, I would watch 2 Leaf games, a Raptors game, attend a TFC game (I am a long term season ticket holder), maybe catch a few innings of a Jays game, the Sunday telecast of a PGA golf event, talk sports at work, peruse daily, talk EPL soccer at the pub and, if the weather permitted, play a game of tennis, a round of golf and maybe even a pick–up soccer game. So yes, I miss sports.

Some people blame our beloved  Toronto teams for the shutdowns.

Virtually every sports league and major event (Olympics, Euro2020, Wimbledon) has been cancelled or postponed.

For some, the time spent watching sports has been “partially” replaced by more engagement with e-sports, video gaming, twitching; but for me, that isn’t the same buzz as a whole city rallying behind a Raptors playoff run or a good Leaf flame out in round one playoffs. There is no doubt the adoption and use of e-sports, YouTube gaming live, Twitch and their growing relationship with sports leagues will be accelerated.

When sports do return, the NHL, NBA and MLB teams will be playing  to empty stadiums. While the sports audience is primarily Broadcast/streaming vs in–stadium, the energy in and around arenas ( bars, restaurants, street viewing) will be lost. Leagues that rely to a greater extent on gate receipts  (eg. NHL), will be hurt the most.

This period of playing to empty stadiums will be a great time to accelerate testing of immersive VR, interactive co-viewing experiences via mobile, behind the scenes “ insider” views of pregame preparation, action on the bench, choose your own camera angles, contests, and more. Monetizing the game experience could be another revenue stream for teams hurt by ticket sales revenue evaporating.

But what changes when we can return to stadiums? Ticket sales will possibly start in smaller numbers.

Digital ticketing and contactless payments were already becoming the norm, but how about branded face masks instead of team scarves handed out at the gate, all food pre-ordered and there for pick up, washroom break times pre-allocated to reduce numbers.

Forbes recently listed off ways in which fans will have a heightened since of awareness for hygiene and how stadiums may consider accommodating the new needs. Here are a few examples:

  1. Preparation: Fans will not want to directly touch their food with their hands. Can hot dogs be half-wrapped or can there be a spout for popcorn? What else can be done to make this easier?
  2. Condiments: A condiment bar is full of germs. Should all condiments start being individually packaged?
  3. Gloves: Should gloves be offered with meals? Or upon entrance to the gate?
  4. Payment: People will not want to sign anything with a public pen. Tap-and-go options should be offered.
  5. Ordering: Staff members should touch as few things and people as possible. Plan for online ordering for concessions and merchandise and fans can simply come by to pick it up.
  6. Process: Ushers shouldn’t grab tickets to check them. What happens with the passing of programs or giveaways?
  7. Staff Apparel: Are staff wearing masks and gloves? Potential disadvantage: wearing a mask in a loud arena will make communication difficult. 
  8. Staff Testing: Will staff be tested and certified? How can you publicize that knowledge (HIPPA)?
  9. Restrooms: Automatic faucets and toilets should be a must. What else should be done?
  10. Mobile Vendors: Exchanging or passing cash down the row is done. What should Hawkers do? How do they sell? Is that eliminated?

For now, experiencing and learning within video gaming, e-sports, Twitch and other platforms that have already replaced much of sports viewing for Gen Z.

In the near future, sports sponsors and broadcasters can  create new opportunities to engage sports audiences via VR, new complimentary experiences, ( chose camera angle, become the announcer, “bet” points on the next goal/penalty , penalty shot results).

Whats’ next? In-stadium audiences may include client branded face masks, gloves, scarves, hand sanitizer, pre-paid food cards, and clients sponsoring cable net or DAZN subscriptions for 6 months?

While there are arguably much bigger issues and priorities to address before the return of sports, I do look forward to the day that we can all enjoy the passion, the dedicated athletes, the friendly banter, the weekend warriors and hope that life returns to  those employed directly by, and those that benefit by association (bars, restaurants, hotels) to the game of sports.

I welcome others to share their thoughts about sports now, in the near term and the lasting impact of the pandemic.