Cable Needs An Upfront of Its Own

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The timing of the broadcast year upfront isn't working for more than half of its participating advertisers, and the lost opportunities mount with each passing June.

An April signature for advertisers to approve what is typically their single greatest marketing expense is at least six months too early for all calendar-year businesses, and about a third of those following the fiscal year.

The "investment loss" to advertisers occurs when timing prohibits their ability to procure what they most need, and what cable TV does better than anyone: television marketing beyond the 30-second unit. This includes content co-creation, product placement, embedded branding, promotional marketing, traffic-building events and cross-platform integration.

Time is right

Because U.S. advertisers deserve a better ability to invest in cable television — not simply rent TV ad time — there needs to be a fundamental change in the way the system works. The best solution for advertisers? Give cable its own full-fledged upfront.

The justifications for this change are already in place. Cable has long been the TV advertiser's first-call partner for beyond-the-POD (point of deployment) messaging and marketing because of the powerful appeal of its content genres, the high involvement of its viewers and the access cable networks give advertisers to their assets, talent and brands.

It was that content appeal and access which partly drove the creation of a limited calendar-year cable upfront in the first place.

Now, the inevitability of time-shifting through PVRs, the escalation of viewer controls (such as video-on-demand), and the growing number of content options bring the need to connect brands to consumers both "in the pods and beyond the pods" more urgently into focus.

It's hard to believe that both the "in-the-pods" and "beyond-the-pods" needs of advertisers can be adequately served by a spring-dominated upfront market — particularly one in which the dollar volume and trading volume have doubled in the last 10 years, the number of options buyers must sort through has nearly doubled and the trading timeframe is still restricted to consecutive days (and nights!).

To be plan-ready for investing in television marketing, as opposed to the land-grab psychology of renting TV inventory, calls for more flexibility in timing. Advertisers ultimately vote with dollars and — given the current calendar cable upfront and the 100% growth in upfront cable spending over the last five years ($5.7 billion this past spring) — the mandate is clear: advertisers need more and more beyond-the-pod television marketing to succeed. They also need better conditions to get that done, particularly a deeper dive with the cable networks.

The evolution to a two-season upfront of either equal-sized markets (depending on an advertiser's business planning cycle) or a cable-dominated fall upfront could easily give advertisers the ability to act on a more complete view of their entire marketing programs for the upcoming year, and thus go into deeper "in the pods" and "beyond the pods" commitments with their cable-network partners.

A factor that has driven cable's exploding appeal to advertisers is how well cable fares not only on traditional age-and-sex demographic measures, but also how well it hits home with specific affinity groups in their passion-points. While most advertisers and buyers have intuitively known this, advances in consumer research have overwhelmingly confirmed their beliefs.

Advertisers' knowledge of their customers and customer segments has never been quantitatively and qualitatively richer, and their research investment — coupled with that of their agencies — typically identifies favorite genres and special interests that can be addressed directly by cable content.

The best connection

Simply put, the better an advertiser knows its customer, the better cable does with that advertiser. Whatever the affinity or genre, cable programming is typically among the primary options for connecting with a brand's critical customers in one of their favorite environments.

This deeper knowledge of affinity groups is critical to brand building, as is the need to strike better media marriages than age/sex demographics allow. A higher-order consumer connection calls for a buying marketplace that gives the advertiser and agency the ability to see the "inventory" in a much wider perspective than conventional age/sex demos.

Fifty weeks of brand-building knowledge cut by affinity group shouldn't be potentially put at risk in a two-week rush of "spots and dots" commodity mindset trading. Cable, because of its potential for deeper connections with affinity groups through passion-point genres and networks deserves a better upfront market process. It has earned it, and then some.

In its efforts to expand and deepen the perspectives of TV planners, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau hopes one of the major byproducts will be an upfront process that better serves the business interests of all of our constituents. The benefits of a more marketing-oriented approach to investing in our medium will, in turn, accrue to all geographic levels of our industry

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