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Guardrail on a road running between a cliff and the sea: safety in the upfronts 2017

Upfronts 2017: Safety for the Road Ahead

May 30th, 2017   ||    by Melanie Brown   ||    No Comments

The TV upfronts for 2017 have come and gone—with a few noticeable trends running throughout many of the networks’ presentations. The upfronts were projected to emphasize the advancement of television and data-driven targeting capabilities—instead, they took a turn for the safe zone. Here are our key takeaways from the big event:

TV Fights Back

The challenges television has faced over the past few years haven’t exactly been a secret. Broadcast networks have been plagued by dropping ratings, with hundreds of cable networks competing for viewers. Among traditional TV networks, the shifting economic model of television has created a fear of flatlining viewership and hits to advertising revenue. The 2017 upfronts, however, trended toward the portrayal of television as a safer place to advertise than its Internet counterparts.

Jo Ann Ross, president of network sales at CBS, pointed out the flaws in digital advertising algorithms—most notably YouTube’s horrendous misstep in displaying an ad for a cruise line over a clip of a sinking cruise ship—AdvertisingAge reports. With television, the networks claim, there’s virtually no danger of a brand being associated with inappropriate content. Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships at NBCUniversal, also took a shot at digital advertising, quipping that digital measures such as “views” and “likes” won’t necessarily translate into brand success.

TV Buyers Take the Lead

As digital channels rise to the same level of ubiquity as television, the TV seller has had to adapt and grow with the times. Nearly every network—broadcast and cable—is now developing its own streaming platform and “TV Everywhere” model.

A television buy can no longer be one-dimensional, and neither can a television buyer. There’s no doubt linear television still delivers a massive number of impressions and gets the advertisers huge bang for their buck. But with audiences consuming content across multiple screens—in everything from bite-size clips to full-length episodes on digital—a balanced buy is proving the way to go.

It falls to the television buyer to stay on top of developments in content distribution, and put together a comprehensive plan for their client that strikes the right balance between linear and digital ad spend. A savvy TV buyer also needs to know how to explain and justify such a multifaceted plan, Forbes points out.

The Old and the New

As far as network lineups go, some of the programming looks pretty familiar. A major trend in television of late has involved creating reboots or spinoffs of classic network shows. Among the “new” old shows are original-cast reboots of ABC’s Roseanne and NBC’s Will & Grace—casts from both shows even made appearances at their respective upfront presentations.

The practice of reviving past successes with new casts is also making its mark on linear television. Fox will air RENT: Live this year, in addition to drumming up its longstanding staple, American Idol. CBS is taking its Star Trek spinoff to its digital platform, CBS All Access, while the CW is putting its own spin on Dynasty . . . and the list goes on. CBS late-night host James Corden took a jab at all the familiar content, asking if broadcast networks could just “play the tape from 2002.”

This move toward the safe zone was unexpected, and while TV continues to be a valuable and relevant medium, the impact of new developments in content delivery and ad tech should not be underestimated or ignored.

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