The Year of Holistic Buying: How TV Advertisers Should Approach the 2022 May Upfronts

The last time the May TV Upfront presentations were held in-person in New York City, three years and a lifetime ago, how (or if) advertising would fit into streaming was still very much an open question. Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock were 6 to 14 months away from launch, Paramount+ was just CBS All Access, and “the collective pitch to brands was that the traditional broadcasters represent a better opportunity for advertising,” as MediaRadar summed it up.

Now, as we approach the return of in-person May Upfronts, and all the pomp and parties that entails, brands and buyers will be confronted with a radically different landscape, even compared to last year’s pandemic-induced virtual affair. eMarketer forecasts that $20.57 billion will be spent on linear TV at the Upfronts this year. CTV publishers and platforms are proliferating, ad-supported streaming is in ascendance, and both content offerings and audience fragmentation are at all-time extremes. It’s all pushed the traditional TV network business model to a tipping point where how advertising is bought, sold and measured absolutely must evolve.

For at least a decade now, upfront attendees and industry observers have promised that disruption was imminent – year after year. But 2022 is finally going to be the game (or, rather, channel) changer. Here are the five most important things advertisers need to consider:

Maintain a Healthy Media Mix

Streaming generates an outsized share of headlines, news coverage and social chatter. The content is super premium, buzzy and addictive. So you’re going to be super-tempted to listen to your agency partners when they recommend a 50/50 linear/CTV split for your upfront ad buys. Or you may be thinking about including a linear network’s streaming service as a percentage of your overall buy with that media company.

But before you overcommit to CTV, look past the tweets and TikToks and into the data: As Nielsen reported, a not insubstantial 62% of TV viewership is still on linear. More importantly, according to exclusive Simulmedia research, linear is still responsible for 95% of total TV ad-viewing time. And with almost 70 million U.S. households regularly viewing both linear and streaming, there’s a huge chance that if you’re not careful, your cross-channel buy will result in wasteful and expensive audience duplication.

A media mix of linear and CTV advertising is certainly recommended, but the exact split should be based on who your target audience is, not just demographically, but also based on their behavior, life stage, and interests too. Look for partners that can help you leverage best-in-class targeting and capabilities to predict where your audiences will be watching or streaming, and how to reach them most effectively. Ultimately, you should be looking for incremental CTV-only impressions that expand your overall TV reach and allow you to engage your target regardless of whether they’re watching live programming or streaming on-demand content, and regardless of network or show.

Measurement Is Primary – and Secondary

Perhaps never before in the history of TV advertising have there been this many smart minds clamoring to rethink how TV ad performance across platforms is measured. Certainly, Nielsen is under more pressure than ever to update its offerings and prove its continued relevancy (and trustworthiness) in today’s television landscape. Meanwhile, a host of alternative currencies from new measurement companies are being tested by the major media conglomerates, including WarnerMedia, Disney, Fox Corp. and Paramount (formerly ViacomCBS), andNBCUniversal has already announced that they will activate iSpot’s cross-platform audiences as currency for national ad buys during the 2022 Upfronts.

But despite the challengers and controversies, Nielsen’s panel data will still be the primary negotiating currency for the vast majority of Upfront deals this year (including NBCU) – none of the alternatives are in a position to truly supplant the TV ratings stalwart in the short term. But with that said, while you may still rely on gross ratings point (GRP) guarantees against traditional sex/age demographics, consider using this year as a testing ground for using secondary metrics based on your business needs and goals. Start establishing the benchmarks to help you prepare for the future – which may be closer than you think.

Awareness or Outcomes? Both!

No advertising medium builds brands as quickly, widely or effectively as television, and as Nielsen recently noted in their latest Global Annual Marketing Report, “brand awareness has never been more important.” That’s even truer now as digital advertising ROI declines, third-party cookies crumble and walled gardens bloom. So it makes sense to go into the Upfronts with an eye on building brand awareness by buying the largest-reaching premium video inventory. And guaranteed impression delivery across channels should be table stakes in any deals you make.

But in addition to capturing changes in aided and unaided brand awareness, it’s just as important for brand-focused advertisers to understand the halo effect of television on other marketing channels, measure the KPIs that matter most to your business and have transparency into how your cross-channel TV investment drove those metrics. After all, as an Accenture study found, TV lifts digital ROI by over 22%. So whether it’s ecommerce, app installs or subscriptions -- or non-digital outcomes like in-store foot traffic and purchases -- the right partner should be able to provide you with a 360-degree view of your campaign’s effectiveness as well as attribution down-funnel.

With a smarter approach to television, you can successfully build a brand and drive business outcomes.

Content Is Scarce, Audiences Aren’t

The Upfront presentations hosted by the TV networks and their parent companies have been casually derided for years as “dog and pony shows.” But even those jaded by a decade-plus of attendance of these events still get chills and thrills when the head of ad sales steps aside, the lights dim on stage and those teasers and trailers start to play showcasing the next broadcast season’s new programs and seasons. When it comes to compelling, entertaining content, nothing beats the programming on our giant smart TVs in our living rooms.

So by all means go ahead and commit dollars to the brand-new series and returning favorites that you’re lucky enough to preview at Upfronts. There’s an inherent scarcity to the inventory available in that premium content (particularly on linear), and if the show is a buzzy hit, your brand’s adjacency could pay dividends for your brand beyond meeting the impression guarantees. But with that said, you should de-risk your deals by supplementing them with audience-based buys. National cross-channel TV is truly 24/7/365, which means the opposite of scarcity if your bottom-line goal is reaching your consumers and prospects wherever and whenever they’re watching across the entire viewing landscape.

Nothing’s Certain Except Uncertainty

As we all know, there’s unfortunately no shortage of volatility in the country and the world today, whether that’s related to public health, the economy, or international conflict. As much as you crave the certainty that Upfront buys normally provide, the unpredictable environment makes it imperative that you approach your media strategy with a plan for pivoting at the ready.

That may mean holding some budget back this Upfront season. That definitely means finding a planning and buying partner that can provide the agility and nimbleness to respond to unforeseen shifts in market conditions and the ability to deliver on bespoke scenarios based on your needs. You can’t afford (literally) to wait for solutions that take months or even weeks to execute. In this day and age, advertisers need to be able to activate audiences at the speed of breaking news.

Are you ready? We’ll see you at Upfronts!

Find out how Simulmedia’s unique TV+® platform for truly cross-channel TV advertising provides unified access to premium linear and CTV inventory with full audience reach guaranteed. Request a demo or email us at advertise@simulmedia.com.