The Changing Landscape Of How TV Advertising Is Bought

If you’ve seen a TV show about a TV show (30 Rock, Episodes and The Morning Show are just a few recent examples), the chances are you will have heard the term Upfronts. Upfronts are kind of like Comic-Con for TV advertising. Major TV networks show off their shiny new content, and advertisers buy ad slots in advance. It’s been a thing for decades, writes Ross Flynn.

But TV advertising spend is experiencing some major changes. There are more platforms, audiences are more fragmented, and technology has changed the way advertising is bought and measured.

Programmatic Ad Deals

A recent and massive change to this year’s Network Upfronts in New York (and for the wider world of advertising too) that is here to stay is the rise and dominance of the programmatic ad deal. This is the use of automated technology to buy ad space at scale. Ads are served algorithmically to the right user at the right time across their digital devices in a process called Real-time bidding (RTB). This is happening with billions of devices at speeds beyond comprehension and can be measured in real-time.

For far too long programmatic ad buying was an afterthought of the event but now is an integral part of the discussion. This was signaled by Netflix presenting at the Upfronts for the first time ever. It comes at an apt moment for streaming as last year, also for the first time, overall streaming viewership overtook cable viewership.

The very existence of the legacy Upfront event itself could be under threat. Some are theorizing that the shift to programmatical deals will lead to marketers adopting an ‘always on’ model in which steady streams of ads are delivered to consumers and bought on the fly as opposed to being bought in bulk at an earlier date.

Marketers seem to be becoming more and more comfortable with this form of ad buying in general, as fewer of them are doing one-off purchases and more are beginning to set up recurring executions of programmatic ad buys. Many traditional linear ad buyers bought less at the Upfronts this year, giving them room to increase their programmatic spending.


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