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Cynopsis Media Presents: Cable Upfront Special Report
04.08.15 By Randee Dawn
What goes up must come down. It’s a truism cable networks had to face at some point, and following four years of increasing upfront dollars, in 2014 outlays fell by nearly 6 percent.
The 2015-16 season is about to get underway, and cable networks are somewhat optimistic things will get better. “There are more unknowns this year,” says Dave Campanelli, SVP and Director of National TV for Horizon Media. “The dynamics of TV buying are changing pretty dramatically.”
In the brave new world of cable upfronts, traditional gala bashes are on the wane, one-on-ones with personalized metrics (and in some cases guarantees) are waxing. Major cable networks each have their own unique philosophy about attracting and feeding hungry clients, but there are a few key areas everyone seems to agree will be major subjects for discussion this year.
The Numbers Game
Welcome to the gold rush, where networks are scrambling to provide metrics that will support ROI for advisers. This burgeoning interest in 2014 has turned into a necessity this year, with some networks more ahead of the game than others. At Scripps, President of National Ad Sales and Marketing Jon Steinlauf says they’re using Nielsen’s Homescan to measure viewers’ purchasing power with shopper loyalty cards.
“We have always done well with engagement and trust and intent to purchase and retention during commercial breaks, but now there are more tools to be able to prove this,” he says.
Meanwhile, A+E Networks has made use of Rovi and Rentrak’s expertise to create an operational platform that will help them profile shows based on consumption and behavioral targeting. It’s currently in beta testing, but A+E EVP National Ad Sales Peter Olsen says they’ve been “quietly talking to partners about how to make it work for the long term… If digital has been winning people over with better metrics, we’re fighting back.”
“We want to buy TV not across the board in every instance, but buy more in real time than the upfront allows,” says Campanelli. “We’re not walking away from the importance of when programs air, but we’re looking past the show to the quality of the audience, and the composition of the audience that’s watching a show. That’s a bigger factor.”
Viacom and NBCUniversal have been ahead of the curve in numbers crunching, with products that have been years in the making. Viacom’s Echo Social Graph help provide a proprietary measuring device that generates real-time data to explain how a piece of content performs on social media, and marketers are able to react in real time when content appeal shifts course to alter the message.
“We’re going to give advertisers more customized content than a year ago,” says Jeff Lucas, Head of Sales for Viacom Media Networks, “plus more social media than ever before, and we’ll measure it all and give you accountability. That’s a great package.”
Meanwhile, NBCU’s Audience Targeting Platform is set to laser in on which inventory will work best with specific advertising categories; clients participating in ATP will be able to make quarterly changes to their upfront investments based on the latest data. “This creates the ability for our clients to have the best of both worlds – the scale and the power that comes from a national TV portfolio, but with enhanced precision and flexibility they’ve seen in recent year from the digital world,” says Mike Rosen, EVP Advertising Sales for the NBCU Hispanic Group.
We Are Family
“Holistic” is a descriptor being bandied about a lot as cable networks underscore the concept of being a network, not just a loose group of channels. AMC Networks, which recently partnered with BBC America, will air the premiere of Orphan Black on all five of its networks on April 16, and President of National Advertising Sales Arlene Manos says she’s looking at cross-promotion for some of their series.
Crown Media Family Networks is also looking to spread itself wide by having its Crown Media Productions create original content for its brands, including Hallmark Channel, across multiple channels. Its new ad department, Crown Connectivity, is also set to launch to integrate advertising across linear, digital and social platforms.
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A+E Networks is in the early stages of remaking new classic series that will infiltrate all platforms (including all its sister channels) with added content and an expanded digital focus. “We want to look at each of our scripted series and miniseries as not just standalone shows but franchises,” says Olsen.
“Clients are looking to create much bigger partnerships with us as a media company,” says Donna Speciale, President of Turner Broadcasting Ad Sales. To that end, Turner is aiming to bring content and data together and offer options for clients spanning their full portfolio. “The silos have been broken between sales and the network divisions,” she adds. “Everything we do for clients now is holistic across the company, and the goal is to do it in as close to real time as possible.”
Content Still Rules
Everyone is beefing up their production schedule, and trying to ensure that programs are owned 100 percent by the network in order to make repurposing and customization not just more profitable, but easier.
“We’re all about content,” says Ben Price, EVP Ad Sales for Discovery Communications, adding that Discovery is making a “record investment of brand-safe content that will run across all our screens and platforms.” New content is constantly being added, such as a new site on Discovery Digital Network called Seeker.
Discovery’snot alone in re-investing heavily in content; Crown Media will produce six films in 2015 under the Hallmark Channel banner, and is doubling that in 2016. AMC Networks is expanding the nights in which it provides original content and doubling its number of scripted hours.
Yet for all of the focus on new and extended content, making clients comfortable about investing in VOD remains elusive. Campanelli cites the poor UX [user experience] with VOD as a hindrance, and the random nature of how long content is available for consumers. “Networks aren’t selling it, so buyers aren’t buying it yet,” he says. “But when you get to a point where you can dynamically insert ads into a VOD, this is definitely going to be more attractive to advertisers as well.”
“VOD is getting to be a strong element,” says AMC’s Manos, “stronger every year. At agencies, everyone is trying to consolidate video into one unit not TV and digital separately, but all video. It’s about getting used to it and seeing less experimentation with it.”
But NBCUniversal Lifestyle Group Advertising Sales EVP Laura Molen says VOD is an important part of their package. “Advertisers see that’s where the viewership is going,” she says. “If you want to reach that audience, you have to play in that space.”
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In the end, it’s clear that networks are savvier now about the importance of measurement and the need to both push content and be fluid about adjusting messages and ads in real time. But as this becomes more of a reality, purchasing large blocks of ad time on a long-lead schedule seems to make less sense. “You’re looking at 18 months out in a lot of cases,” says Campanelli. “Who knows what’s going to be on TNT [for example] 18 months from now?”
Scatter purchases tend to be the solution, though it’s less than ideal for channels trying to build out programming, shore up brands or plan for the long term. But for Scripps, scatter is taking on a greater prominence. “People want more flexibility,” says Steinlauf. “If they want to buy week by week, month by month, quarter by quarter and less than 52 weeks at a time, we’ll adjust our models to accommodate that.”
Despite all these changes, most execs say they are positive about the future. “There was a pendulum shift last year,” says A+E’s Olsen. “Clients got caught up in headlines. But we’re seeing a bit of that pendulum swinging back and combined with the fact that we feel strongly about where our content and brands are headed, we believe TV still works. It’s an important tool.”
As are all the other devices out there. “We ask our viewers to take our content and share it,” says Viacom’s Lucas. “It’s about more value, more products, access to the audience, deeper engagement and it’s everywhere. There’s really never been a better time to be in television. But innovation is the key.”
Roberta Caploe: Editorial Director @robertacaploe
Diane K Schwartz: Senior Vice President, Media Communications Group
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