Lessons Learned From the 2022 Upfronts and Newfronts

June 27, 2022

Lessons Learned From the 2022 Upfronts and Newfronts

Published by Rich Donahue

I’ll admit, I was on the road during much of the May Upfronts and Newfronts presentations, but I kept up on the action by checking the trades from airport lounges around the nation and when back at home in Denver.  For me, Variety’s coverage summed it up nicely, overcomplicated, due to the wide variety of companies and platforms competing for ad dollars, but on the bright side a stronger commitment to outcomes. 

Before I dive into the trends, I’ll admit, I love this time of year, both as an ad industry executive, a tech leader, and as a fan of media.  Even though COVID moved most presentations online in 2020 and 2021, there was likely some nostalgia in returning to the traditional fare to some degree – getting to rub shoulders with celebrities, enjoying a few song and dance numbers (including Stevie Wonder, Jon Batiste, and Miley Cyrus), and seeing which TV series were renewed, got the ax, or just might be the next big thing. 

As I watched previews for some new shows, I kept in mind the recent biopic and documentary about the extraordinary career of Lucille Ball. In the early 1950’s, “I Love Lucy” had 11 million TVs tuned in each week, back when there were only a total of 15 million TVs in the country, and one episode drew a staggering 71.7 rating with a 94% share.  Compare that to 2022, when the top-rated network TV show, NCIS, drew just under 11 million viewers. Network TV still has scale, but the audience is more fractured than ever.

“Outcomes” was one of the biggest buzzwords among ad planners. Forbes reported, “For the upcoming 22/23 upfront some of these constants in place for decades could begin to change as advertisers and programmers seek alternatives to the ‘business as usual’ model.”  Typically, planners place their chips on shows based on anticipated audience delivery, negotiating placements and rates before inventory is devoured. Should the show not deliver, make-goods are delivered in a variety of ways.  While many viewers have migrated to ad-free streamers, inflation is causing many to re-think their subscriptions, which gives rise for new opportunities with ad-supported (AVOD) blue chip streamers (including Disney+, and HBO Max), in addition to FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV services) channels like Pluto (Paramount), Xumo (Comcast), and Tubi (Fox). 

Beyond television, digital is experiencing unprecedented growth, reaching scale while delivering documented performance in ways most TV platforms can’t.  Defining the digital universe is like trying to define the actual universe, as the platforms competing for ad dollars are just about as infinite as the stars above. Meta, Snap, and YouTube all hosted major presentations with innovative new ad products, including AR and VR immersions, yet young audiences still gravitate in droves to watch each other’s homemade videos on TikTok. Let’s not forget a few years back, when a single TikTok user delivered billions of dollars in free ad impressions to Ocean Spray while spiking the streams, physical album and ticket sales for Fleetwood Mac.

So, what “outcomes” can advertisers count on? While sales, share, and growth are the end game, you typically don’t get there with a single ad. Awareness campaigns bring potential consumers into the top of the sales funnel, so the desired outcome is documented audience delivery (impressions) and determining engagement and message recall. Advertisers used to rely on Nielsen sampling data and survey results to determine a lot of this, but digital platforms and data aggregation make it easier to nail down impressions and track them through sales. Performance marketing, the hot topic at Newfronts, makes it vividly clear which ads reach the bottom of the sales funnel by resulting in a sale. On these platforms, advertisers benefit by only paying for the exact number units sold versus clicks, clips, or impressions. The perfect balance of ad dollars directed to the top of the funnel, and the bottom, is the equation all marketers attending these presentations were eager to solve.  

Growing interest in performance marketing aligns nicely with Ibotta as we welcome Walmart into the Ibotta Performance Network (IPN) this summer – delivering over 120 million active consumers to advertisers, which are I Love Lucy numbers for the modern day. Our “pay for sale” cash back rewards platform delivers a guaranteed ROI along with in-depth, real-time analytics so advertisers can see how their daily efforts contribute to the bottom line. “Flexibility” and “future proofing” ad strategies was another hot topic at the IAB Newfronts, and those are among the many benefits Ibotta delivers to customers each of whom will begin expanded partnerships with the IPN this summer. 

So as we wrap up the advertising year that was, and look forward to the year to come, it’s an advertisers market, with plenty of options at the ready to deliver audiences, engage them, and deliver documented results.

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