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Media Buying Briefing: Four takeaways on Upfront Week from a buyer’s perspective

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Media Buying Briefing: Four takeaways on Upfront Week from a buyer’s perspective

Thanks to Paramount Advertising for sponsoring Digiday’s upfront week coverage and presenting this edition of the Digiday+ Media Buying Briefing, normally available exclusively to paying subscribers.

The annual cavalcade of upfront presentations by the dwindling number of TV media titans is over, and many media buyers and marketers hopefully took a long weekend to recover from attending all of the parties. More than one media buyer I spoke with at the end of last week was practically hoarse from talking so much.

Much was learned last week about where the state of video (as an umbrella term) is headed, and how marketers, through their media agencies, plan to harness it (or not, as explained below).

Let’s start with the fact that there were even live IRL upfront presentations at all. Including the 10 days of NewFronts at the beginning of May, buyers have expressed enthusiasm over being able to gather in person again following two years of virtual presentations, which couldn’t quite convey the same level of excitement as seeing Miley Cyrus or Lizzo perform or Sylvester Stallone expound on Covid.

“I think it shows that people wanted to be in New York, people wanted to get together, people wanted to have conversations,” said Carrie Drinkwater, Mediahub’s chief investment officer. “I think it demonstrated the importance of connection and not doing these deals over Zooms or through Excel sheets.”

I’ve been paying attention in some form or another to the Upfronts since 1991 when few people outside the TV business or media agencies knew what an upfront was. Here are my takeaways at what has likely been a pivotal week in the history of TV/video: 

Off to the races — but it may be a marathon 

Most media buyers I spoke with expect the market to start moving pretty immediately if it hasn’t already started. They concurred that, given the recent darkening clouds on the economic horizon, media sellers are eager to lay money in. It doesn’t help that clients are also said to be reducing their budgets, as clients take money off the books and return it to the bottom line.

Expect to see deals get cut as early as this week, with linear competing with the major digital players to increase dollar volume. Last year, with linear networks seeking and largely getting massive CPM increases, often north of 20 percent over the prior year, their total upfront dollar intake took a hit, as they counted on momentum continuing into scatter. Now that the scatter market has cooled considerably, networks want to lay in extra volume. 

But that may not happen. One buyer who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “That money doesn’t necessarily go back” to the networks that spurned it last year. ”Once it goes to somewhere else, it’s not like we say, ‘Alright, but next year, we’re gonna try to move that money back.’”

Living in a post-schedule world

More than one buyer noticed the absence of schedules, save Paramount/CBS. This is very much the result of content being offered more on-demand than ever. “This week we’ve seen the reality of the world, which is, ‘Let’s present you content and the access points and not worry about how this show’s gonna be on Monday night at X time,’ like the old days,” said one top investment chief. “While it’s important to understand schedules for allocations per quarter, there’s a new world which is, ‘I want my content when I want it, and I want it to be consumer-friendly.’ And that’s what all these partners have done a pretty good job of presenting from their capabilities.”

Streaming takes the front seat

Nearly every buyer agreed that streaming services are the higher priority to sell this season. “We definitely saw that a lot of streaming was a main topic of every presentation,” said Amy Ginsberg, chief investment officer at Havas Media Group.

After all, it’s where audiences keep gravitating in larger numbers. But there’s another value to streaming that comes at the expense of linear TV that perhaps the sellers didn’t intend. One major media buyer had an epiphany moment listening to NBCU talking about how network shows would repeat on Peacock, for which NBC is looking to sell distinct inventory — which to this buyer seemed like double-dipping. “Why am I going to pay for it on Peacock and also pay for it on your linear network?” asked the buyer.

Currency, what currency? 

The drumbeats leading up to Upfront Week told a story of networks pushing alternative currencies, as each major media company seemed aligned with one or the other (NBCU and iSpotTV, CBS/Paramount with Videoamp, etc.). That didn’t materialize last week, as buyers and sellers seemed to tacitly agree this is not the year to test alternative currencies in any significant way. 

“I do think there’ll be some transactions on non-Nielsen currencies this upfront. It just won’t be at scale,” said Celeste Castle, EVP of research & measurement, dentsu Media U.S. 

That lack of scale is probably for the better, as more than one holding company media agency exec told of the potential for error and confusion since virtually every agency is set to analyze and measure buys off a Nielsen base. “A client is not going to let NBC guarantee their stuff on iSpot and CBS guarantee their stuff on Comscore, and Warner guarantee their stuff on whatever,” said a measurement executive with a major media agency. “That client has to be consistent. So I’m thinking, could you have multiple currencies? Sure. But how are you going to manage your inventory, and then put a value against it? There are so many questions out there.”

Two things all buyers agree on: testing the alternatives needs to happen, and soon — just not in the upfront — because problems with Nielsen persist. Secondly, before any significant amount of transacting gets done on these alternatives, someone’s going to have to figure out who pays for all this. Because it doesn’t come cheaply.

In sum, it’s been a fascinating market to follow, and there will be a few more stories told in coming weeks about how this all shakes out.

Color by numbers

As the industry slides into buying and selling ad inventory for the coming season, iSpot.TV offers up these stats that encompass the prior TV season (from Sept. 6, 2021 to May 8, 2022):

  • There were 1.8 trillion total TV impressions, which represents a 6.8 percent increase over the prior season.
  • There were 678.2 billion ad impressions over that same time frame, which is a 4.7 percent increase.

Takeoff & landing

  • IPG-owned media agency Mediahub landed media AOR duties for rideshare service Lyft, which does the lion’s share of its advertising on digital. VaynerMedia had handled digital duties but didn’t participate in the client’s review.
  • Creator commerce company Whalar last week acquired talent & management company, C Talent, which specializes in managing deaf and disabled talent. 
  • S4 Capital acquired tech services and engineering firm Theorem One to help boost its target goal to make tech services 25 percent of its business. 

Direct quote

“In every upfront presentation, they all [claim to have] the fastest growing streaming networks. They all rate the best at X, Y and Z, and It’s the same story. And only one can be right. And that’s what I think is the trick in all this — making sure you know which one’s right when you leave the presentations and you go back to your desk, and you’ve done all this work beforehand.”

— One major chief investment officer, speaking to the similarities of media sellers’ streaming pitches.

Speed reading

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‘She-Hulk’ Release Schedule: When Does Episode 9 Hit Disney Plus?

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‘She-Hulk’ Release Schedule: When Does Episode 9 Hit Disney Plus?

The current Marvel series dropping weekly episodes on Disney Plus is almost over. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a half-hour scripted comedy about Jennifer Walters (played by the incredible Tatiana Maslany), the Hulk’s equally green cousin.

The first season consists of nine episodes. Six are directed by Kat Coiro and the other three by Anu Valia, with Jessica Gao as head writer. Originally, She-Hulk was set to take over Ms. Marvel’s Wednesday release spot, but the episodes instead arrive each Thursday (probably because Star Wars series Andor took over the Wednesday slot).

Exact She-Hulk episode release dates and times

Here are the exact episode release times.

The first smashing trailer

After a teaser that well and truly teased us (by not showing She-Hulk’s face), Marvel dropped the first official trailer on May 17. This time we see what She-Hulk will look like in her awesome green glory.

She-Hulk also stars Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Wong and Tim Roth, who starred as the main antagonist in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Ginger Gonzaga, Josh Segarra, Jameela Jamil, Jon Bass and Renée Elise Goldsberry are also part of the cast.

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First Super Mario Bros. Trailer Is Here: You Can Finally Hear Chris Pratt

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First Super Mario Bros. Trailer Is Here: You Can Finally Hear Chris Pratt

It’s-a him. Chris Pratt as Mario in the movie. OK, so co-producer Chris Meledandri confirmed back in 2021 that Pratt wasn’t going to use the stereotyped voice of the video game plumber in the upcoming animated Mario film. But on Thursday, Nintendo dropped a highly anticipated teaser trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and Pratt revealed, kind of, the voice he did choose.

Honestly, the much-anticipated Pratt-as-Mario voice was kind of a letdown. There’s … maybe a faint bit of Italian accent in the few lines Pratt speaks? Or is he just using his normal voice? Pratt’s Mario mostly just reacts to getting the wind knocked out of him as he heads off on his Mushroom Kingdom adventure. 

Sure, there was no way Pratt was going to use the exaggerated, stereotypical voice, but so little of him can actually be heard in the teaser it’s tough to say how his Mario will sound. He doesn’t deliver any of Mario’s famed catchphrases — no “It’s-a me, Mario” or “Wahoo!” Maybe more will be revealed when a longer trailer comes along. Regardless, there’s a better chance to hear some of Jack Black’s Bowser (he’s excellent) and a good look at the vibrant animation.

It’s-a disappointing

Fans were underwhelmed by Pratt’s voice, or at least what we got to hear of it.

“Everything in the Mario movie trailer looks and sounds absolutely great…except for Chris Pratt’s voice lol,” one viewer tweeted.

Pratt reminded one viewer of Ratso Rizzo in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy. “It was like four words, but I definitely got Dustin Hoffman ‘I’m WALKIN HEAH!’ vibes.”

And another person summed it up nicely, writing, “It’s not similar to Mario. It’s not similar to Mario’s vibe. It’s not even similar to the live action movie version. Just Chris Pratt sounding a little confused.”

everything in the Mario movie trailer looks and sounds absolutely great…except for Chris Pratt’s voice lol

— Matt Binder (@MattBinder) October 6, 2022

It was like four words, but I definitely got Dustin Hoffman “I’m WALKIN HEAH!” vibes.

— Evil Bilbo (@evilbilboxbl) October 6, 2022

It’s not similar to Mario. It’s not similar to Mario’s vibe. It’s not even similar to the live action movie version. Just Chris Pratt sounding a little confused

— JStack (@JStackTV) October 6, 2022

“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to be Mario,” Pratt says in a video clip preceding the trailer, relating how he played Mario games on a machine at his childhood laundromat. Good to know, but the jury is still out on how that dream will become a reality. 

And after the trailer was published, Pratt tweeted about it, writing, “After playing the games for years as a kid (and adult) I’m excited to bring Mario to all of you! Enjoy!”

The trailer did reveal Jack Black as Bowser, and Keegan-Michael Key as Toad. But some fans were disappointed that the clip didn’t include a clip of Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, especially the actor’s infamous laugh.

“My only complaint is that we didn’t get to see Seth Rogen’s Donkey Kong voice let alone SOME form of laughter,” one fan wrote.

The Mario movie was set to come out in late 2022 but is now scheduled for release on April 7, 2023. 

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How marketers are tailoring data-driven creative to engage audiences on CTV

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How marketers are tailoring data-driven creative to engage audiences on CTV

As the end of the year approaches and marketing teams look to finalize their 2023 budgets, many are wondering how to ensure their ads are set up for success in the months ahead, appealing to unique audiences whose media consumption habits continue to evolve. 

Advances in programmatic technology and data targeting have made it possible to reach these audiences with precision and at scale, serving ads that showcase the products and services they’re most interested in — be it on their desktop, mobile or CTV devices. But something the industry doesn’t always discuss during the campaign planning process is how creative contributes to campaign goals and directly impacts consumers. 

Nielsen found that creative is the top driver of a brand’s in-market success — up to 80% in traditional TV and 89% in digital advertising. And there are ways to ensure that creative speaks not only to viewers’ collective interests but to their nuanced interests as individuals in a non-invasive, privacy-conscious way. Using existing creative — in other words, not reinventing the wheel — marketers are taking steps to boost engagement, enhance brand awareness and achieve personalization on a greater and increasingly sophisticated level. 

Making video ads actionable

Actionable creative encourages viewers to engage and interact with brands on a one-to-one level. For marketing teams, QR codes are proving an effective way to elevate this engagement, especially in the advanced TV space. For video ads produced without a QR code, these can be added as an overlay, branded frame around the video or an end card.

In essence, QR codes mirror the strategies of clickable ads in desktop or mobile environments, pushing consumers to take action and moving them through the marketing funnel (i.e., “scan to add to cart”). Not every viewer will scan the code, but even an incremental uptick in engagement is a powerful one. QR codes are an opportunity to place a brand in the palm of a consumer’s hand.

Given the proliferation of smart speakers and voice assistants (estimated to be present in approximately 95 million US households), voice-to-action commands are another way advertisers are motivating viewers to act while watching ads. By suggesting that viewers “Ask Alexa to do X” — via branded frames or end cards, for instance — marketers empower consumers to purchase a product, book a test drive and more. 

Keep branding front and center

It’s one thing to serve impressions; it’s another for a brand to make an impression that drives campaign results. And without robust and well-placed branding, it’s near impossible to ensure viewers will remember a brand. 

Video ads are increasingly cinematic, which, while entertaining, doesn’t automatically ensure the successful delivery of marketing goals and KPIs. If a viewer isn’t paying full attention to an ad for the full 15 to 30 seconds, they might entirely miss what the brand is, thus limiting brand recognition and recall. 

When crafting creative (for CTV or otherwise) — even a more out-of-the-box, entertaining ad — successful marketing teams often place a small logo in the corner of the screen. The effect can somewhat interrupt the cinematic tone of the ad, but it ensures that consumers know which brand is speaking to them.  

Developing dynamic creative to fine-tune targeting

Different audiences have different needs and therefore benefit from seeing different versions of a message. Not every brand has the budget to adapt its creative to every audience and screen, but many have found cost-effective ways to do this. One technique is dynamic video creative, in which one video is modified to become more personalized to each individual in a target audience, depending on the campaign strategy.

For example, historically, a local tourism board running a summer road trip campaign promoting travel to various destinations and attractions across a state has created a traditional TV spot to show off these destinations. However, if the tourism board wants to reach viewers on a more intimate — but also more programmatic — level, then dynamic video creative and data can turn the ad creative into thousands of iterations for all screens. In this way, they reach viewers with messages molded to their interests, needs and physical locations. The outcome is that adventure enthusiasts learn about destinations for mountain biking, and families with small children are shown amusement parks within driving distance, for instance.

These practices help marketers drive awareness, engagement and action at little to no added expense, ultimately ensuring a brand speaks to audiences in the most powerful, most convincing way. Creative may be king, but these simple techniques are the kingmakers; coupled with data and technology, they’re more achievable than ever. 

Sponsored by: Tremor

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