2021 Upfronts Call for More Holistic Audience-Based Buying Strategies

As viewing habits change, media buyers and sellers must adapt for TV convergence

In a year unlike any other, consumer viewing habits changed dramatically, putting pressure on both advertisers and media owners to quickly adjust. They had to largely rely on technology platforms to provide a flexible and agile foundation to continue to reach KPIs, monetize inventory and meet consumers wherever they were watching.

As the goals of the advertising industry evolve, this year’s upfronts will likely look a little different than those of previous years. Aside from the obvious shift away from large gatherings, there is a new goal for all participants to build, foster and meet the needs that exist today for converged buying and selling across both linear and digital.

Historically, the industry has been very focused on linear, but now as sellers bring new formats to market, and with the explosion of streaming, there are so many different endpoints to reach consumers. This creates both an opportunity and challenge for buyers to reaggregate reach and for sellers to manage yield, monetization and audiences collectively, rather than in a silo.

Linear, in all forms, remains strong

Heading into the upfront season with the simultaneous relaunch of the economy, there will be a significant amount of spend in linear TV as advertisers look for ways to reach audiences. Xandr’s VP of TV Platform business development Mark Mitchell said, “While there has been an overall decline in paid TV subscribers, which has started to shrink the supply of linear, demand against TV is going to be fairly strong in the upfront as advertisers look to return investments that were ‘taken off the upfront table’ but then were faced with a tough scatter market.”

And though the previously forecasted upward trajectory in data-driven linear media spend did not sustain expected growth due to Covid-19, Holly Rae, VP of product management at Xandr explained, “The proportion of data-driven linear media spend in the 2021-2022 upfront is expected to continue to increase as TV remains the undisputed most influential driver of brand awareness. The demand for more precise audience targeting against linear budgets will continue to play a critical role in how linear budgets are distributed as the budget put against linear works harder to keep up with the digital targeting model.”  

Digital brings reach to new heights  

While linear remains relevant, buyers and sellers haven’t forgotten the invaluable audiences that can be reached through connected TV. “TV programmers are actively seeking opportunities to expand linear budgets to CTV as we approach the upfront season. What was previously viewed as incremental budgets that were put against CTV viewership have now become required budgets to capture total TV reach across DDL & OTT,” continued Rae. “As a result, the importance of defining unified audience targets across data-driven linear and CTV becomes instrumental in driving traction on the buy side, in order to provide buyers with an aggregated view of deduplicated audience reach regardless of how TV advertising is delivered.”

This shift has been felt across verticals. Particularly with CPG brands, which have on occasion pushed back on the more focused targeting that data-driven linear is starting to adapt. With KPIs often rooted in general brand awareness, previous buying strategies defaulted to blanket advertising to reach as many households as possible.

However, Xandr’s chief research officer Pete Doe said, “Now, digital is becoming a more important part of CPG strategies as those audiences consume content in new formats. Maintaining reach will require a holistic approach that reflects the true value of premium video content, and we’re very focused on providing a solution.”

Attribution and measurement indicate success

On that same note, characteristics like attribution, or measuring the effectiveness of a campaign in a more direct way, which originated in digital, are increasingly becoming a requirement for TV. It’s apparent that there is a whole new institution of fine television right now, from how agencies are evaluated, how contracts are rewarded and the role that procurement plays at big marketing companies.

There are benchmarks that are based on various demos, and it’s challenging, not just for the buyers, but for the whole community to move into a new, more audience-based model. Xandr’s SVP of product and technology Christina Beaumier said, “We’re making progress in this area, but that’s not necessarily how agencies are compensated or incentivized to behave. Some have set up advanced TV buying teams and advanced video or total video teams, and we see that as really positive progress.”

The 2021-2022 upfronts will be focused on convergence of the linear TV landscape, in which budgets allocated to TV must encompass all the different ways TV is distributed—whether it be linear, OTT or addressable—in order to provide a holistic view of TV performance within the increasingly fragmented TV ecosystem. At the same time, audience-based buying is becoming the preferred way of transacting as brands look to reach specific audiences to drive and influence purchasing decisions.