TV upfronts: What did we learn and who looks best set for 2021?
The virtual upfronts were short and succinct. As each free to air broadcaster aimed to condense the usual theatre into a concise 60-minute session, it was clear to see the strength and focus of each network:
- Seven is the home of news and sport
- Nine has audience intelligence at scale
- 10 is committed to engaging Australians under 50
- Content remains king – particularly in a difficult year
- Investment into data and audience intelligence is increasing
- The importance of an enhanced ad experience is key for audiences and advertisers
- There are some elephants in the room not addressed at upfronts.
There's something to be said for a 60-minute upfront, concentrating the collective network mind to the key messages brands need to inform spend in 2021. So what are the takeouts?
Across the 2021 upfronts season, three key themes stood out for me: Content remains king; data and audience intelligence investments; improving the ad experience through better tech. So lets break them down:
Content remains king
10 – We’ll see 10 remain true to brand in 2021, doubling down on the strategy that served it well in 2020, namely delivering 50 weeks of strength and consistency for Australians under 50. The network's ambition is to capture audiences at a life stage when purchase habits and brand loyalty may not yet be set in stone. Covid dealt up its fair share of challenges for content creators and broadcasters, however 10 has attempted to turn a difficult situation into a celebration of our great nation, with I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! and Amazing Race filmed locally and set to hit our screens in Q1. Masterchef, The Masked Singer, Australian Survivor, Bachelor and Bachelorette will also return, alongside new programming - Making it Australia, Doghouse Australia and The First Inventors.
Seven - Took a big hit this year, with the delays to the Olympics, AFL and the production of new tentpole formats. Seven's strength across news and stability throughout the day, helped mitigate the challenges faced across the 19:30-20:30 timeslot. The network's growth in 2021 will most likely come from a revitalised H1, (replacing My Kitchen Rules and House Rules, with Holey Moley and Ultimate Tag), and the Tokyo Olympics - provided the event goes ahead. Elsewhere, this year’s successful overhaul of Big Brother and Farmer Wants a Wife gives me confidence Seven has what it takes to give The Voice and Australian Idol a reboot in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Nine – In 2021, we’ll see the roll-out of a tried, tested and relatively safe content slate, including MAFS, Lego Masters, Ninja Warrior and The Block. Nine continues to challenge brands and agencies not to shy away from building brand equity in uncertain times.
Data and audience intelligence
10 – Progression of 10’s data capabilities, specific to addressability, has been steep in 2020. The addition of Unpacked by Flybuys to existing partnerships with RedPlanet, Quantium and Smartr will support further acceleration in 2021.
Seven – The investment into enhancing RED IQ is positive. Seven’s first-party audience identifiers (SWMIDs) are enhanced with second-party data partnerships. I look forward to hearing more from Seven, which teased there is more news to come on bolstering its second-party data partnerships in the weeks to come.
Nine – A powerful Adobe integration was unveiled by Nine, enabling brands to match their own customer segments to Nine’s 13 million registered users, creating an audience not dependant on cookies and helping brands optimise against existing and potential customers. Audience Match is available across 9Now and in the first half of 2021, will be available across Nine’s other digital properties.
Technology fuelling improved ad experience
10 - An ongoing commitment to innovate BVOD ad formats that favour the user experience first, with the launch of the Curated Content Carousel, alongside Premium Pause, which launched earlier this year.
Seven - A focus on advancing initiatives such as EAVE (Enhanced Advertiser and Viewer Experience) for reduced ad breaks and the announcement of e-comm functionality via 7Plus, with the integration of a QR code to drive shop-ability.
Nine - The roll-out of automated buying platform 9Galaxy across radio inventory in 2021 is a move that will aid advertisers, and will no doubt support the growth trajectory Nine seeks for its radio assets in 2021.
Beyond the FTA broadcasters, Foxtel made a move away from a singular annual upfront event a couple of years back. However, it impressed this year with a timely announcement of ongoing investment into tech and content. With a new data-led buying optimiser, a long list of global and local programming, and the individual strength of platforms that make up the Foxtel brand (including Binge, Kayo, Foxtel Go, Foxtel Now and Tubi), Foxtel seems well placed to deliver relevance and value for advertisers and consumers alike.
I look forward to the SBS upfronts later this month.
ROI, rising costs and a big year ahead
In my view, the ROI of television remains unrivalled. However, the one topic not addressed in this season’s upfronts was the rising cost of reaching audiences on television as audiences continue to shift online.
Two years ago, networks focused on the ‘death of catch up’, bolstering their BVOD catalogues with old favourites and online exclusive content – a move that has helped drive steady audience growth. The past year, the focus has shifted to addressability, an important move to enable advertisers to deliver more relevant ads to relevant audiences.
Demand has returned for Q4 but sustained demand throughout 2021 will be dependent on sustained audiences and powerful opportunities for brands to connect with customers at scale in commercial environments.
The next 12 months will prove a good indicator of how the market rates the efforts and investments made by each network to fulfil those fundamentals.
Specsavers head of market and planning, Shaun Briggs, needed a big brand hit to kick-start life after Covid. MAFS was hardly love at first sight. But it quickly grew – literally – as the brand, its agency AJF Partnership, and Nine’s Powered creative unit delivered a bespoke integration within weeks. For Briggs, “it’s been an eye opener”.