Alternate Currencies to be Given Airtime at Upfronts

Dan Meier 10 May, 2023 

Upfronts kick off in the US next week, as broadcasters take the stage in New York to court advertisers with their upcoming shows and products. But this time the week of presentations will look a little different to previous years, featuring some new faces, some notable absentees, and so many alternate measurement solutions that the gift bags might have to contain currency converters.

Always-on again, off again

Industry standard Nielsen is back in the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) good books, regaining its accreditation last month, just in time for Upfronts. And while the company recovers its claim to being the only TV ratings firm with MRC accreditation, its suspension left an 18-month window for networks to seek alternative measurement partners. Now some 29 percent of Upfront buys are expected to be transacted on alternate currencies, according to Advertiser Perceptions, as agencies seek viewership guarantees across different screens and devices.

Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) is one of the companies embracing new metrics, teaming up with Comscore and VideoAmp for the season ahead. The partnerships allow advertisers to use alternative currencies when buying linear inventory, the company said in a statement. The partners will also develop cross-platform measurement capabilities “for clients to transact against advanced audience targets.” Last year the broadcaster was also working with iSpot, who appear to have been shuffled out of WBD’s wallet this time around.

This could be down to NBCUniversal’s deal with iSpot, used by clients for some of their Upfront buys this year, across linear networks and the Peacock streaming service. NBCU has been vocal in its criticism of Nielsen since 2016, and last year formed a group called The Currency Council to accelerate adoption of different currencies. “We will usher in better measurement that delivers unified exact second by second cross-platform currency across all NBCU properties,” said Kelly Abcarian, EVP Measurement & Impact at NBCU.

Fox is also experimenting with multiple currencies, tapping Comscore, VideoAmp and LiveRamp for transactions on its FAST service Tubi. The company said brands can measure campaigns using Comscore Campaign Ratings (CCR) and VideoAmp Audience Measurement, while using LiveRamp to “inform scale across Tubi’s viewership.” Meanwhile Fox has joined WBD, NBCU, Paramount and TelevisaUnivision in a Joint Industry Committee (JIC), set up to enable multiple currencies and establish cross-platform measurement standards for streaming video. Nielsen has so far declined to join the JIC.

Making change

However, Nielsen has been working on its own cross-screen measurement solution named Nielsen ONE, aiming to update the methodology that cost the firm its MRC rating in the first place. Disney has been involved as an Alpha participant for Nielsen ONE, supporting the product’s evolution for cross-media campaigns. “But our evaluation work doesn’t end with Nielsen,” Eric Cavanaugh, VP Measurement Transformation & Insights at Disney Advertising told VideoWeek. “We’ve been expanding our relationship with several vendors because it’s not lost on us that buyers want and need to remain agile as viewership shifts.”

Among Disney’s measurement partners are Samba TV and EDO (co-founded by actor Ed Norton), whose metrics are used to track campaigns across Disney’s streaming ecosystem: Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+. “Our strategy is more about measurement expansion than exclusivity on any one single currency,” noted Cavanaugh. “The reality is, there is no one silver bullet for currency. Acknowledging that advertisers have different needs, Disney has a robust toolbox to draw upon.”

Another company committed to Nielsen is Netflix, making its Upfronts debut having introduced advertising at the end of 2022. Nielsen has actually been tracking the streaming giant since 2015, initially against the wishes of Netflix, who called the collection of streaming ratings “an outdated mode of doing business.” But the company has since changed its tune on advertising and therefore requires independent ratings it can offer advertisers. “This information is essential for the industry and we’re excited to continue to work with Nielsen,” said Pablo Perez De Rosso, VP Strategy, Planning & Analysis at Netflix.

But as Netflix comes around to the idea of Upfronts, Paramount has departed and apparently has no plans to return. Instead of its usual presentation, the company has opted for dinners and meetings with advertisers, suggesting a break from tradition around TV advertising. And part of that shift is the move away from a single currency, having seen its campaigns boosted by using VideoAmp data. Paramount is also a member of the aforementioned JIC and recently published guidance for advertisers dealing in new video currencies. John Halley, President of Paramount Advertising, has declared an end to the “status quo in currency”, as well as the traditional Upfronts presentation.

That said, an ongoing writers’ strike has already forced Paramount to air reruns of The Daily Show, alongside disruption to topical shows across the US networks. And as long as the broadcasters cannot guarantee new content to advertisers, they might as well be trading in magic beans.

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