Top Takeaways from This Year’s Upfronts: Welcome to the New Frontier

By Stephani Estes

This was an Upfronts season like no other — amid scandals, strikes and shakeups, advertisers and publishers certainly had a lot to contend with heading into this year's negotiations. Here are my top takeaways from this year's wild ride, and what it all means for advertisers and publishers going forward:

Flexibility is here to stay. The first few months of this year have been quite challenging for the industry as advertisers, publishers and programmers adjust to a rapidly changing media landscape and lingering economic uncertainty. The upside for brands is that we're seeing the first signs of real interest to negotiate deals in a more flexible way. Streamers are now willing to have conversations on how to structure deals and help brands reach specific audiences instead of sticking to the rigidity of the traditional Upfronts process.

It may take more time for other models to take shape, and the willingness to have conversations is the first step to giving brands more flexibility when it comes to media buying against premium video content.

Programmatic is taking center stage. On a related point, this year we saw key players like Disney announce a programmatic push during the Upfronts and lean heavily on programmatic buying as a core element of its deals amid the current economic conditions and advertisers' need for flexibility. Publishers are eager to explore new opportunities to better monetize content, and with Disney looking toward programmatic, brands can expect others to do the same. This is great news for brands since moves like these pave the way for more flexibility with deals and budgets, as well as more opportunity to target specific audiences.

New content mergers give digital players a boost. The growth of CTV/streaming continues to upend the Upfronts and what we consider to be "TV" — the video market is increasing in fragmentation and there is a big push to figure out ways to make streaming as lucrative as traditional TV has been in the past.

One example is how Warner Bros. Discovery is selling ads on the recently-launched Max, which is an effort to combat fragmentation and growing subscriber churn rates by combining the strengths of HBO Max and Discovery Plus into one platform. With Disney adding Hulu content to its Disney+ platform and Paramount+ and Showtime set to merge this month as well, it looks like this trend will continue in an effort to attract more subscribers, cut down on content spending, and make the streaming business model more profitable across the board.

A multi-currency solution could be in our future. This year, we saw new alternative currencies join Nielsen in an already fragmented space, which made transacting deals even more complicated. The holdup on Nielsen One put the company behind schedule, giving VideoAmp, iSpot, and others the opportunity to gain more traction this year. Some have already embraced a mix of alternative currencies, like Warner Bros. Discovery, which is now using VideoAmp and Comscore, and Disney, which is relying on Nielsen, iSpot, and VideoAmp to transact their deals.

It looks more likely that there won't be a single-currency solution in the future, and with so many new options still emerging, we're looking at a more complicated process for any one option to successfully take over as the new industry standard.

This is certainly a complex landscape for brands to navigate, what's key for brands to understand is that currency does not equal audience, which is ultimately what they're after. The currency is important when it comes to pricing and determining return-on-investment. Brands should remain focused on following the audience first and foremost, which will set them up for success regardless of what the currency space may look like in the future.

In Conclusion

It's clear that TV as we once knew it has completely changed and we're seeing the Upfronts adapt to reflect more accurately what the landscape looks like today. With so many dynamics at play, this year's commitments will take more time and will strengthen in the long run — whatever hand the publishers are dealt with, they're going to make the most of it.

As the industry continues to shift, it's critical for advertisers and publishers to prioritize flexibility, keep up with changing consumer preferences, and embrace new ways of effectively reaching audiences to set themselves up for success in the years to come.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Stephani Estes is chief media officer at Goodway Group.