Upfronts Success Depends on Data and People-Based Identity

As we approach the 2021/2022 upfront season, there is a combined sense of optimism and skepticism.

On one hand, Covid-19 positively accelerated marketplace innovation and maturation. Viewing habits evolved quickly and created a function that changed the way buyers and sellers transact, for the better.

On the other hand, gaps across the TV ecosystem—from targeting and attribution to measurement—became painstakingly clear. Despite how far we’ve come, there’s work left to do. Collectively, the current industry approach lacks agility and precision. It’s not scalable and has limited reach because of siloed negotiating. We can’t just expect to make small, superficial tweaks to large investment strategies to solve all our problems.

Instead, there needs to be a bifurcated approach that begins on both ends of the supply chain. Sellers need to maximize their yield and client performance. Advertisers must demand flexibility, coupled with informed measurement and audience activation. And for any of this to happen, we need people-based identity.

The playbook for upfronts success

People-based identity serves as the foundation of any data-driven upfronts strategy, providing insight into the end user that goes beyond anything device-based. With this view, buyers and sellers will be in a better position to execute and achieve three critical determinants to upfronts success:

They can adopt a cross-platform perspective. Networks must align with buyers to propose omnichannel, customizable packages that satisfy buyer expectations, both in terms of reach and measurement. This breaks down data silos, enabling a 360-degree view of a cross-screen portfolio.

They can build and enable identity-informed data sets. You already have a yield and inventory management system, but the inputs may be different across linear, digital and connected TV. By injecting larger, identity-informed data sets into these platforms, you’ll receive better forecasting and business optimization. 

They can create, activate and measure custom audiences. Custom audiences must be designed to reflect reality. For example, if your client’s customer is a new mom, you will need to target them when they’re consuming media, which may be in the middle of the night. Try enabling advertisers with the tools to manipulate audience suppression and extensions to achieve the desired cross-screen outcome, which lends itself to a competitive sales package that can be executed across apps, channels, on-demand services or OTT platforms.

True collaboration, true fluidity, true success

Data is the great equalizer here, and mutual success is contingent upon collaboration. None of the above is possible unless buyers and sellers work together toward a common goal: unifying their data in the name of “true fluidity.”

True fluidity represents the empowerment of TV networks to manage investments across all streams and screens in real time, against a custom audience match guarantee. As a result, buyers gain more efficiency and sellers require less inventory to drive the same KPIs for advertisers, which equals an increase in yield. True fluidity is more dynamic, customized and immediate. It’s not about analyzing and implementing historical learnings at a glacial pace. Not to mention, it’s been wholly embraced by the buy-side, thus increasing the incentive for sell-side support.

Ultimately, with true fluidity, everyone wins—a particularly prescient reminder for programmers who have historically been at odds with one another. Thankfully, many have come to the realization that advanced measurement is key to underscoring the performance and power of TV. If programmers, especially, can align and focus on cross-screen measurement, they’ll be able to better define and prove media valuation, creating a halo effect that illuminates the industry altogether.

Here’s how true fluidity could play out in this year’s upfront negotiations: As advertisers ask for increased flexibility terms, you can provide increased fluidity terms. You’ll be able to manage the percentage of impressions delivered by network, platform and screen. You can create the most advantageous deal structures that will deliver the right audience by screen and monetize every eyeball. And you can provide audience insights beyond age and demo.

With data, it’s a done deal

Although there are still many unknowns ahead of upfronts this year, data will be more important than ever before. There is no alternative to using data as the de facto bargaining chip—a universal currency to guide decision-making and ensure flexible terms that work for all sides. This is especially true when you consider two undeniable facts: advertisers want more flexibility than ever before and content owners (namely TV programmers) will hold out for pricing increases on already-limited inventory. 

This year’s upfronts don’t have to play out like a dramatic game of Battleship, as they have in the past. Instead, if buyers and sellers add true fluidity and the right data to their arsenal, they’ll be rewarded with an ironclad negotiating strategy that raises (not sinks) all ships.

Jay Prasad has over two decades of experience in leading companies and the industry in the data and cross-screen revolution across digital video and TV. As chief strategy officer for LiveRamp TV, Jay helps to create a holistic go-to market strategy for all of the LiveRamp TV offerings in the U.S.