The TV upfront buy can be a complex concept for digitally-focused planners, buyers and strategists. Samba TV is here to demystify and untangle this legacy process, and provide recommendations along the way. 

New York, September 15, 2017 – When televisions became prevalent during the early 1950’s, commercials were presented live during a program broadcast (think soap sponsors during the soap operas). This format evolved into pre-taped spots that ran in commercial pods at specific intervals – an advertising model that has changed little during the past sixty years.

In 1962, ABC made the industry’s first-ever upfront presentation as a way to gauge interest in upcoming new programs the network was developing. This change in ad-buying was eventually adopted by the entire television industry as an effective method for bringing advertisers and broadcasters together in a unified process to plan, buy and allocate TV commercial inventory.

With the growth of digital advertising over the past fifteen years, the upfronts have adopted some process changes and added TV/Digital packaging options, but in-general upfront buying is still executed today much as it was during past decades.

Let’s take a look at the fundamentals of TV upfronts:

What is a TV upfront buy?

  • A television commercial investment for the upcoming TV season with guaranteed demographic reach (A18-49). Survey-based studies help verify reach against a demographic, and there’s no other options for success measurement, optimization or KPIs. It’s simply “Did we reach the intended demographic?” The upfront season now runs from early March through May.
  • Many clients are now using Samba TV’s Audience Discovery research as a critical planning tool to uncover the most-engaged TV audiences for their brand. Understanding the viewership habits of your brand’s site visitors is a valuable and actionable analysis to improve customer engagement.

What is the process for a TV upfront?

  1. Budget submission: Agencies submit their budgets and networks craft a “shell plan” that reflects their target demographics, the related programs and historical insights from the previous year. Inventory is reserved for sale, and more complicated sponsorships/integrations are open to all advertisers.
  2. Negotiations and Revisions: Agencies can request budget or strategy revisions based on evolving changes to media plans and budget availability. This could be adding/removing networks, changing budget levels or taking client feedback into consideration. Networks can request revisions based an inventory availability or changes to scheduling.
  3. Holds: Agencies reserve (hold) upfront inventory with a verbal commitment while leaving room for last-minute revisions, and because there is a finite amount of TV inventory, agencies want to ensure their demographic reach is maximized. For example, the average network will sell roughly 4,785 :30 commercial spots in a given quarter. “Sales rating estimates” offer an optimistic estimate of the average audience demographic for a program’s commercial spots. Higher ratings allow the network to charge a higher CPM, and make-goods are issued when the target goal is not reached.
  4. Order: In the final stage plans are firm and complete, with final tweaks being made to flighting. Advertisers can “flip” their inventory with other advertisers, and splits are negotiated for :15 second ads.

Challenges and solutions

  • Underdelivery occurs when a target goal of GRPs/TRPs/Impressions is not met and the network is unable to deliver on the upfront plan. This can be mitigated with digital strategies such as leveraging Samba TV’s Sync & Retarget to reach TV viewers with digital ads in real-time based on 1:1 deterministic TV viewership data.
  • Expression happens when purchased inventory is aligned with a program that gets cancelled or shifted to another airing schedule. Contracts dictate a client can rescind their budget for these programs and allocate elsewhere. Again, digital strategies can remedy this issue by providing exposure against viewers of specific networks and programs in real-time or programmatically. Samba TV can help fulfill the original order by reaching TV viewers digitally and through CTV inventory.
  • Category Exclusivity is frustrating for advertisers that are blocked from a program or tentpole event by a competitor. Tentpole events are particularly susceptible to exclusivity by offering First-Right-Of-Refusal to past sponsors, often locking-out other advertisers for years. Using Samba TV to reach viewers of tentpole events is an effective strategy for conquesting a competitive sponsorship.
  • Lack of Avails and high costs can prevent an advertiser from purchasing inventory for a specific program. Additionally, agencies are constantly seeking out efficiencies for audience reach, which is where Samba TV can provide HH-level digital reach against TV audiences at the genre, network or program level.

While the TV upfront continues to dictate television advertising planning, buying and strategy, digital options are available to mitigate its challenges. Contact Samba TV to see how we can help maximize your reach, drive efficiencies and provide planning tools to hone your targeting strategy.