Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why The Upfront Season Is (Still) Important.

Reprinted from my Mediapost blog today, check it out here...

If you believe the Upfront – that reliable bastion of old media where the vast majority of Television programming is purchased by advertisers in advance of the upcoming season – is flawed and dated and should be sedated and put to bed, then you need to wake up to reality and understand the flaws in your own thinking.

First of all, let me state for the record as a vocal proponent and avid veteran of the Internet Advertising industry that TV is still, and will be for the foreseeable future of the next 15 years, the most high impact and leading advertising medium. TV will most certainly change and continue to evolve as it shifts towards that fulfillment of a digital future, but there is still no form of media that can provide a stronger, more highly impactful, more widespread audience than Television. The Internet will continue to become the centerpiece of strategy and the focus for customer interaction, information gathering and information dissemination, but TV will always be our big brother. The one we look up to. The one we emulate and the one that we want to be just like! The Internet is a cultural phenomenon, but TV and the offshoots of TV such as Digital Video Shorts from SNL and the infamous skits of Jimmy Kimmel and Ben Affleck that air late, late at night are what get talked about at the water cooler every morning at work.

TV is important and the Upfront Season is important because it gives advertisers a sneak peek into what the fall season will create, providing insights into the American consumer and what popular culture items will shape their discussion over the coming months. The Internet is a more immediate form of media and it relies on that immediacy for relevance. TV is still appointment viewing. The Internet is where we go to see what we may have missed on TV and to discuss what we saw there as well. TV is what reaches the largest audience in a pre-specified amount of time. DVR’s notwithstanding, the audience for a crucial episode of a TV show or for a “live event” such as the Oscars or the Grammy’s still tend to view that show within 3-5 days, thereby creating a latency effect for what is otherwise referred to, as I mentioned, appointment viewing. The Internet has no form of appointment viewing. It is more fluid and the content is more dynamic and the content is archived for the viewer, ensuring that their appointments can be missed or delayed until a later time. The reason the Upfront is frowned upon by the Internet Advertising pundits is because it highlights the single flaw in our model; that appointment viewing is obsolete in a medium reliant on breaking the story first and aggregating the surrounding content the fastest. The closest that we could get in today’s world for a viable Upfront Season Online would be to predict what celebrity will first go bonkers in the fall and what sites will capture the moment!

Actually, the Upfront Season can be applied to Online if we focus on the locations and content that support the Television season. This content is timely in part due to the success or failure of the TV season itself. Additionally we could create limited opportunity content that would air online and be pulled once it was shown or after a specified amount of time, much the same way as V.O.D. on my cable system, but this model limits the viral nature of Internet content. In my current cable format, as supplied by Comcast, certain episodes of my favorite shows are only available for a limited time, creating a residual appointment viewing opportunity and something that can be used to lure eyeballs of value in a way that artificially creates demand.

It’s like the old cliché about buying the cow when you get the milk for free, but applied to media in its purest form. If you know you can watch a show at any time, what’s the rush to see it? If you know you can interact with content at any time, what’s the rush to read it?

The Upfront Season is still crucial because it can teach us lessons about free markets and the creation of demand through limiting supply. Websites could participate if they limited the access to content, but of course they would get criticism from the marketplace in much the same way that I will get criticized for this article. It’s a vicious little cycle but one that makes sense if you look at the situation with an open mind.

No, don’t you agree?

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