Each year, the Upfronts and Newfronts provide a checkpoint for the media industry—beyond just a moment to buy ad placements, they’re an opportunity to get a peek at the future of video, and what marketers can expect as they build media plans moving forward.
It’s not news that video content is being reimagined. Audiences have cross-screen viewing habits and are open to different styles of content within each experience. Increasingly, however, premier content is no longer limited to a TV screen, and publishers are recognizing the need to not only refurbish their large-screen offerings, but also create snackable, premium mobile content.
Content + Programming
Quality content continues to reign as king in the video space. Partners across all channels are advocating for inventory across the content spectrum—from UGC and low-production videos to original prime programming, premier partnerships, and episodic entertainment. Each has a place in the consumer journey, offering advertisers endless options for entertainment and engagement.
To consumers, there’s no single way to define TV. TV is watching live sports on a mobile device, it’s binging Succession on a connected TV, and it’s watching Glass Onion on a tablet during a long flight. Consumers don’t care as long as the content is quality, and the content is accessible. Partners like Peacock are leveraging this fact by focusing on the “complete” streamer, pushing their comprehensive content library that includes live sports, 24/7 news, new shows/originals, and hit movies. Roku is also heavily investing in The Roku Channel, rolling out new shows featuring stars like Sofia Vergera, Jessica Alba, and Charlie Puth, striving to prove they’re more than just their “Audience Network” when it comes to content.
The push for short-form video UGC inventory in the social space is apparent, with all platforms trying to prove its TikTok-like inventory as superior. This is why we are seeing social platforms prioritize creator relationships and capabilities. Snapchat, YouTube, and Meta stated that creators lean into the original purpose of social media platforms to create strong communities of potential users. Through the power of storytelling and entertainment, these creators can promote brands in an authentic way.
That said, these social channels are also bolstering premier partnership deals to offset the increase in low cost, but not necessarily low quality, UGC inventory. Some examples include Olympic and Paralympic Snapchat partnerships and TikTok’s new Pulse Premiere Strategy, which give brands the opportunity to purchase premier inventory across publishers like Conde Nast, DotDash Meredith, Hearst Magazines, MLS, NBCUniversal, UFC, Vox Media, and WWE.
Of course, the elephant in the room of prime programming is the writer’s strike. The Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) used the timing of the strike to coincide with the TV Networks annual upfront presentations, drawing attention to their call for better pay and more equitable writer’s room structures. Many actors chose to stand in solidarity with the writers instead of making appearances, and their absence was notable. Gone were the late-night comedians providing tongue-in-cheek commentary on their own networks and the competition, leading to rather dry presentations. The big question on everyone’s mind: how long will the strike last? If the current strike lasts as long as the previous strike (about 100 days), we can expect the Fall premieres to be significantly delayed. Networks will lean heavily on unscripted programming to fill the void (are we ready for more talent competitions, reality shows, and dating shows?), but marketers may look at shifting their dollars without the draw of new, must-watch scripted content.
When it comes to news, this year gave more time than in recent memory to the news programs and networks at an upfront. This included personalities like Michael Strahan for Disney’s Good Morning America (and again with Fox for his NFL analyst position), and Fox even gave ‘The Five’ time to provide banter. While news audiences are likely to continue to grow over 2H 2023 and into 2024 as the presidential election cycle heats up, many brands are wary of brand safety in an increasingly polarized news market.
The battle to become the best in Sports continue to be a theme across Newfront and Upfront events year-over-year. Amazon’s NFL deal was at the core of their presentation last year. They seemed to pick up right where they left off this year, with the focus centered on taking the consumer experience further. One way they’re accomplishing this is through their increased data capabilities, resulting in improved audience-based targeting. This comes at a timely moment with the release of the first “Black Friday” NFL game—giving advertisers the opportunity to push their products to the right audiences when they’re the most likely to transact. Additionally, NBCUniversal reminded everyone that the Summer Olympics are slated for the 23/24 season and programming will be intense. If brands are interested in advertising alongside the Olympics, the time to start having those discussions is now.
On smaller screens, social partners like Snapchat and TikTok are also putting a big emphasis on sports. Snapchat especially is increasing their sports offerings, announcing large partnerships with the Olympics, Paralympics, and various women’s sports leagues. Women’s sports have extensive viewership, but they are often overlooked from an advertising perspective. Snapchat is bringing them to the forefront. Social platforms offer an extension to large-screen sports coverage, giving brands an opportunity to join the conversation.
While there was less talk about currency than expected during the upfronts, there were several touchpoints of interest. NBCUniversal touted their ONE PLATFORM, and the ability to transact using sources other than Nielsen for currency. They claim on their platform that in one month they can reach 160MM and keep duplication to only 10%. Fox pushed their ONE FOX and the cross-device reach with Tubi. Essentially, all but Disney, who is still holding firm to Nielsen currency, pointed buyers to considering new currency models. And while transacting on multiple currencies can feel like comparing apples to oranges as advertisers try to predict ROI, it’s still a major step forward towards more reliable, accurate TV measurement.
Interactive + Shoppable Ad Units
As audience behaviors continue to shift, so does the role of video in the customer journey. Thankfully, advertising partners are adapting to these shifts by making digital shopping and discovery more accessible and interactive, and making video both a brand-building and an action-driving channel.
For example, Peacock is providing advertisers with a new way to reach users during key sports moments. Their “Marquee Ads” product showcases brand logos on the scoreboard during live games, so when a player scores, brands score too. Snapchat also joined the brand discovery conversation by incorporating the My AI chat feature, which allows users to chat with a personal AI bot to get answers to questions or hear recommendations. They’ve already begun testing providing advertisers the opportunity to show text ads alongside results. Additionally, Meta introduced new ways to engage with Lives and Reels, including AR ads on Reels. These can be used to drive engagement from users, for example as a virtual try-on opportunity.
They’re also taking it a step further to help drive the final purchase from users. Peacock is rolling out several new ad formats to increase audience engagement. Their “Must Shop TV” product allows viewers to purchase products that appear in NBCU content. This means viewers tuning into Top Chef can purchase cookware via a QR code that identifies shoppable products on-screen. Meta also announced a few new product updates to enhance the shopping experience on Reels. Expanding on standard product ads, multi-destination product ads are now available on Reels, allowing several products to be showcased within a single Reel. Additionally, an upgraded call-to-action button will be added to Reels placements, allowing brands to include more product information and even a thumbnail image to the CTA button.
From initial discovery to final purchase, these advertising partners are providing new brand engagement touchpoints while leaning into existing behaviors.
Takeaways for Marketers
- While “video is video” and the distinctions between video platforms continue to blur, understanding how video intersects with the consumer journey, and where, is key to smart ad buys.
- Quality content isn’t limited to just prime time anymore—linear, streaming/OTT, and social all have great options for engaging, brand-safe content to run alongside.
- Linear currency will continue to grow and change, and we probably won’t see the industry decide on one option for the next several years. Be open to new forms of measurement, but ensure that your tracking and reporting capabilities are giving you actionable insights into your media performance, not just new numbers.