A new approach to upfronts. Four ways to make it your best year yet.

Upfronts season is upon us. After a two-year hiatus, in-person presentations are back — and a lot has changed. The TV industry has undergone serious transformation, from a fundamental shift in the way people watch TV, to the launch of new streaming platforms.

This shift away from traditional cable in favor of streaming has Connected TV (CTV) and over-the-top (OTT) taking center stage — and the networks are leaning in too. But as marketers attempt to make sense of the increasingly fragmented CTV advertising landscape, relying on antiquated buying strategies from past upfronts is simply not going to cut it.

Advertisers and media sellers alike are recognizing the importance of a new approach — one that uses data as the trusted guide for buying and activation decision-making — and they are coming together in an unprecedented way to collaborate, bringing benefit to both sides.

As we approach this year’s decisioned upfronts, here are four key tips for buyers:

1. Focus on consolidation

For advertisers buying directly from networks like NBCUniversal and Disney, and content distributors like Sling TV and Hulu, you may find yourself asking, “How can I effectively plan, target, and measure my CTV campaigns and holistically manage reach and frequency across all providers?” And the short answer is, you can’t —unless you’re consolidating your buys on a demand side platform (DSP) like The Trade Desk.

Consolidation enables buyers to access premium CTV and OTT inventory across all major networks and ad-supported streaming services, in one place. This can help you:

  • Maximize audience reach and prevent oversaturation with holistic frequency control across premium CTV partners.
  • Upgrade your strategy with decisioning to gain more control over your TV buy to help drive performance and cost efficiencies.
  • Use insights and comprehensive measurement to prove out results based on your desired KPIs, and inform upfront allocation and future negotiations.

2. Make a few key requests of your publishers

Based on the needs and goals of your brand, leverage these four guiding principles to help frame upcoming conversations with publishers around the upfronts:

  • Fluidity: We recommend asking publishers for greater fluidity between linear and CTV spend, to mirror consumer behavior as more households shift to streaming. This includes allowing spend across all buying methods within CTV, such as fully decisioned private marketplace (PMP) deals, to count towards your commitments. This gives you more control to use data to make more informed campaign decisions.
  • Scale: You can also ask your publisher partners to make all CTV inventory available for programmatic buying and at the highest priority possible, ideally at the same level or above direct buys. This will help to ensure data-decisioned campaigns are able to scale against premium content.
  • Transparency: Request that your network partners provide content signals in the bid stream so that you can better understand how they are bundling inventory. This also helps to ensure that publishers are adhering to your do-not-air (DNA) lists and meeting your upfront terms.
  • Performance: Check with your publishers to see if they can provide persistent IDs. This should enable better audience targeting, holistic frequency management across all impressions, as well as measurement and optimization against business outcomes.

Whenever possible, we recommend setting up meetings with the publisher, agency, brand, and a DSP like The Trade Desk to address goals and expectations of consolidated upfronts.

3. Go beyond CPMs and gross impressions

Even as brands and agencies explore how to incorporate more data into their upfront decisions, in many instances, they still rely heavily on metrics like impressions served — measured by CPM, or cost per thousand impressions — and reach. Buying direct may offer lower CPMs and higher impressions, but if your budget is spent reaching the same viewers over and over, is that really budget well spent?

  • CPM is useful because it can help you quickly decipher higher-cost from lower-cost inventory, but the challenge with this metric is that it only accounts for gross impressions — not unique ones — which can give advertisers a false idea of the efficacy of their ads.
  • Reach also matters, especially being able to prove that your CTV buys are driving incremental reach beyond linear. But campaign effectiveness hinges on more than just reach alone. Advertising works best when shown in premium quality media environments. That’s why The Trade Desk is exploring new TV metrics to help measure the quality of inventory you're running on.
  • Plus, with the largest footprint across CTV inventory, we have a clear vantage into the audience overlap across publishers. Your account team at The Trade Desk can help you identify which networks and broadcasters offer the most unique reach against your target audience, and how much you can potentially save through frequency control that can then be reinvested towards reaching more net-new households.

We put these insights to work for many brands. One client in particular — a leading fast-food chain — transitioned a large portion of upfronts spend from linear direct buys to decisioned PMPs. By adopting an audience-first, data-driven CTV strategy, the brand was able to extend their reach to ~60 million unique households on CTV alone, while at the same time, achieving their ideal frequency, eliminating wasted impressions, and maximizing impact. The result? A 50 percent reduction in cost per unique household.

4. Choose an activation partner carefully

With fragmentation only getting worse, consolidation is key. As you choose your activation partner, look for a solution that enables real-time data to keep ahead of viewership trends and arms you with tools to monitor and evaluate your success.

  • As we talked about previously, DSPs like The Trade Desk, help streamline the buying journey by giving you the ability to secure media across all major networks and streaming services in one place. This gives our advertisers more control over their campaigns, unlocking the ability to leverage data at every stage of the process and make more informed buying decisions, helping to drive performance and maximize reach.

Besides the benefits of consolidation, our platform also delivers:

  • Linear TV data solutions. Inclusive of ad exposure and content viewership data, these solutions can help you focus spend on driving incremental reach.
  • Advanced frequency management tools. Achieve your optimal frequency, with the ability to control frequency per week, day, hour, and even down to the minute.
  • A marketplace of measurement solutions. Measure against the KPIs that matter most for your brand, from traditional reach and frequency to incremental reach, and even sales.

Leverage our suite of commitment management tools to effectively execute and manage upfront spend. The commitment dashboard tracks progress towards spend across each of your commitments on our platform, all in one place. And, we'll be testing a new pacing feature in the coming months that will work to prioritize spend towards inventory that fulfills your commitment.

For more information on commitment management or how we can help you incorporate data into your upfronts strategy, reach out to your account manager at The Trade Desk.