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Industry Contributor 18 Nov 2020 - 3 min read

As brands create turmoil boycotting the US TV upfronts, the lesson for 2021 starts here

By Kurt Burnette, Chief Revenue Officer - Seven West Media

Recently, Digiday outlined a push in the US to move away from the traditional broadcast year window, with pushback from the TV networks embattled by the pandemic. So, what we can learn from the TV ad market in the US? Despite the impact of the pandemic, we’re unlikely to see Australian TV networks move away from upfront deals. As 2021 draws ever closer, advertisers are going to have to be even smarter about planning TV and how to prioritise a fast start in Q1 2021.

Key points:

  • In the US, more advertisers than usual are sitting out the traditional broadcast-year window (October to September)
  • Some US advertisers are moving away from traditional deals to a calendar year window, as they believe it gives them more time to make up the difference for money not spent and/or left on the table – even though this may come at a premium
  • But the US TV networks’ upfront deals are not likely to move to a calendar year model
  • Most TV networks in the US feel they didn’t push hard enough for rate increases during the broadcast-year negotiations and believe they should see increased rates moving forward.

The pandemic still holds plenty of the cards moving into 2021. We cannot discount the rolling effect from Covid-19 on the advertising market this year. The key learning is the need to be flexible, adaptable and move fast as new opportunities and issues emerge. In other words: plan for the unplanned.

There are clearly key differences between the US and Australian markets, not least of which is the ongoing devastation Covid is having on the US economy. The TV ad markets in both countries have been crunched this year, but in Australia that does not appear to mean the end of the upfront calendar year deals and commitments.

There are flexibilities built in, contingency plans and floats in place.  That is part of the point of an upfront commitment, to provide that certainty.  It is why the deal structures around that have remained for most advertisers and agencies, with many getting in early where they can. Why? Because it is more important than ever for agencies and marketers to secure the very best of the premium content on broadcast and BVOD. To do that, they need to get in upfront, using the structure of the deals to do so and get a fast start to the year, ahead of their competitors and the broader market demand.     

The upfront deals are not just about price. Our experience is that the most effective deals are also built on unique offers, testing and learning about everything from effective ad units, attribution, e-commerce and data partnerships to big sport and show integration and social and content production. That stuff does not happen with short-term, “beat the market” behaviour, rather with collaboration - partnerships teamed with smart buying.    

Smart buying will always lead to efficiencies and more effective campaigns through optimal use of the platform. The irony of smart buying is that the longer out you buy, the more efficient your schedule is across linear TV and BVOD. Buy short-term and there is a very high risk it costs more. Linear TV is a fixed inventory business and although we would love to, we cannot create more ad space. It is a supply and demand business. In fact, right now the market is experiencing high demand and limited supply and many advertisers have been caught out.

If anyone is holding out for pre-Christmas opportunities this year then they will be left disappointed. We are all working hard every day to find solutions that will help brands reach audiences over this critical period when TV availability is tight. Thankfully BVOD, the fastest growing medium in the country, is delivering some of those incremental reach and engagement opportunities. (At 7plus, the runaway success of SAS Australia is driving big audience growth right now.)

The nature of long- and short-term demand is always changing, but any brand that wants to make an impact on TV at the start of 2021 can’t do that and create value by waiting.

A key data point to support that at Seven is how we have just opened our booking system for the first four months of 2021 and saw over 20% more demand than this time last year. Marketers and their media buying agencies are negotiating upfront partnership agreements encompassing both price and  strategic, longer term conversations. That is a strong and clear sign that business confidence is returning, a fact also supported by numerous business and consumer confidence reports. 

If linear TV and BVOD is your chosen media channel, it is critical to lock-in TV and premium BVOD executions now. It’s also crucial to be prepared to finesse them further down the track as you plan for the unplanned. That would be true of most mediums. 

Many TV network executive in the US feel they did not push hard enough for rate increases during broadcast-year deals previously. In Australia there was huge value given in Q2 and Q3 2020 as a result of Covid-19, but that level of value and support simply will not be repeated in 2021. However, our continued support of the market and brands on the road to recovery will occur in many ways.  

As 2021 draws closer, there is no more critical time to get a fast start to the year. Brands might always be able to book ads around cat videos on YouTube and fake news on social - but not all content and audiences are created equal. I repeat: availabilities in premium long-form video content will be tight in Q1 and beyond. 

TV is as always there to help grow businesses and never has that been more important than in 2021. It’s never only about the “upfront deal” and never will be. But in a world perhaps more uncertain than ever, the offer of certainty should not be discounted.

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Kurt Burnette, Chief Revenue Officer

Seven West Media

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