NewFronts Future of TV Upfronts

What this year’s upfronts tell us about the state of adtech

By Nicole Scaglione, Global vice-president of OTT and CTV

April 28, 2023 | 7 min read

The evolving shape of TV’s upfronts and IAB’s Newfronts point to the larger sea changes playing out across the media landscape, writes PubMatic’s Nicole Scaglione.

TV pattern

/ Adobe Stock

To see which way the tide is turning in advertising, it’s worth taking a closer look at the TV upfronts. They tell us about the state of our industry, beyond what’s happening on that big glass screen in our living rooms.

Today’s TV buying is about more than the TV itself. It’s about the evolution of media buying and how advertisers connect with their audiences.

The TV upfronts have seen a resurgence in relevance in recent years, on the strength of two trends: the streaming content boom and the evolution of buying technology. Both these trends are also undergoing their own kinds of transitions.

So, what does that mean for this year’s TV upfronts, and our industry at large?

Content and tech are being recalibrated

While viewership remains strong, the mad rush of content creation among streaming providers, who for years focused on top-line growth versus bottom-line losses, has come to an end. That’s not to say there will be any shortage of shows and movies for streaming viewers to enjoy in the coming years, but we will see providers such as Netflix focus less on new production volume and more on marketing efforts to maximize the number of eyeballs that find new pieces of content.

Meanwhile, on the technology front, we’ll continue to see broadcasters and streamers lean into enhancements that enable automated, real-time buying within the upfronts experience. The motivations behind the provider’s embrace of programmatic experiences are clear: it’s what advertisers want.

Even as the content boom subsides, the push toward improved flexibility and efficiency within the buying process will not. In fact, as more premium streaming content moves into ad-supported models, the need to access this inventory programmatically is going to become more urgent than ever. In the immediate future, that means a few things:

1. Tech will alter the upfronts buying mentality

Just as evolving media buying options help maintain the relevance of the TV upfronts, the same forces will lead many advertisers to rethink where the upfronts model fits within their broader campaign planning and buying.

Today’s advertisers desire greater choice, greater control, greater flexibility and the ability to infuse their ad buys with quality data that enables greater precision. The advance-buying mentality at the heart of the upfronts is becoming less palatable to advertisers who are being shown the value of new real-time premium content buying paradigms, and this will greatly influence the future shape of this seminal industry event.

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2. The NewFronts will merit a closer watch

The TV upfronts’ baby cousin, the IAB NewFronts, is all grown up now, and we should pay closer attention to them. The NewFronts are no longer a fringe event – they’re a critical part of building a media plan in an ecosystem where premium digital content is proliferating.

More and more, we’ll see the upfronts and NewFronts participant lists blurring and evolving alongside industry trends. For example, social platforms are making a bigger push into the NewFronts arena – an indication that these companies are acknowledging the performance swing away from their platforms and toward the CTV space. If they want to maintain and expand their connections with advertisers, they need to stay in front of them at trending events like the NewFronts. At the same time, we will see more NewFronts participants make the leap onto the larger upfronts stage.

3. The TV upfront players will fluctuate

This year, Paramount will forego the main stage, allowing Netflix to make its inaugural presentation. Such shifts are natural and going to increase in frequency in the coming years as the need for players to continually test the efficiency and relevance of their approaches grows. ‘Because we’ve always done it this way’ mentality has no place in the TV landscape of the future.

The TV upfronts aren’t going anywhere. They’ve repositioned themselves within the digital landscape, and – like the digital landscape itself – will evolve alongside the needs of the market and the capabilities of the adtech space for years to come.

Nicole Scaglione is global vice-president of OTT and CTV at PubMatic.

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