April showers bring May flowers and the TV upfronts. The ritual began in 1962, when ABC first scheduled all of its primetime programming to premiere during a single week in September. Since then, the medium of TV has evolved rapidly, but the upfronts have not.
Consumption continues to grow across smartphones and smart TVs, satisfying consumers’ demand for convenient and constant access to the magic of sight, sound, and motion. As a result, the definition of “TV” has become ambiguous. For example, when asked to define “TV,” one member of Forrester’s ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community told us that he doesn’t “consider viewing content on a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone as ‘watching TV.’” However, another defined TV by “the type of programming, [not] the device.” Nonetheless, the medium of TV has evolved to satisfy consumers’ rising expectations, but, like gross ratings points (GRPs) and other legacies of the TV advertising industry, the upfronts are stuck in the past.
This year’s upfronts are fraught with consternation and confusion about currencies, the buy side’s unheeded calls for more flexible cancelation options, and tension between index- and audience-based buying. Clinging to tradition, rather than rapidly embracing alternatives that better account for consumption’s fragmentation, fewer than one-third of the advertisers I’ve asked plan to transact on alternative currencies this year. Furthermore, digitally native brands’ unmet needs for lower-funnel accountability and flexibility at the upfronts reveal the ritual’s disconnect from how the fastest-growing advertisers want to plan, buy, and optimize TV.
The industry is trying to catch up to the medium by casting TV as a high-yield, highly measurable channel that’s competitive (and complementary) to paid search and social. For example, “Performance TV,” a term evangelized by MNTN and tvScientific, promises to solve CMOs’ top two challenges with TV advertising, according to Forrester’s Q1 2023 B2C Marketing CMO Pulse Survey: holding TV accountable to lower-funnel goals without sacrificing reach and holding TV accountable to upper-funnel goals without sacrificing performance. But it has drawbacks: Performance marketers with low risk tolerance often sacrifice their brands’ mindshare in favor of cheap costs per mille (CPMs) to make TV hit aggressive acquisition goals. By minimizing TV’s cost per response, marketers limit TV’s halo effects on search and social and forsake the medium’s benefits of tonnage.
Amid all the noise about TV, don’t lose sight of the truth: TV advertising remains a persuasive, cost-effective way to build memory structures, amplify compelling creative, and lift brand awareness and credibility. Check out our just-published report, Tune Out The Noise To Reap TV Advertising’s Rewards, to learn about TV’s still-universal truths and how to adapt your TV planning, buying, and measurement to the medium’s evolution. If you’re interested in meeting, click here to set up a guidance session.