Maybe A Little TOO Upfront?

Another upfront season is slowly but surely unfolding.  Several of those relative dinosaurs called basic cable networks are doing presentations for agencies ahead of the relative new kids on the block, the digital and streaming services.  By the middle of next month those in both worlds–the broadcast networks in the ad-supported streaming world, will be dazzling buyers the way many used to–with glamorous stage shows, elaborate buffets and rooftop New York parties, all hoping for their fir share of the billions of dollars still being dangled in front of them by the ultimate torquemadas–the advertising community.

And last week, it was announced that the process to determine who gets paid what and how will be more democratic than ever.  TV TECHNOLOGY’s George Winslow provided details:

As the TV and streaming industries push for better measurement solutions, the U.S. Joint Industry Committee (JIC) has in the runup to the upfronts that  Comscore and VideoAmp have been certified for transactability as national currencies. The certification came after a rigorous data evaluation as part of the final stage of its certification analysis, the group said.  This news marks a significant milestone in the push for better measurement solutions and comes just one year after media buyers and sellers came together following the formation of the U.S. JIC to author baseline requirements for new cross-platform solutions and to conduct a thorough analysis of new currencies via its inaugural Currency Certification.

And as VARIETY’s Brian Steinberg underscored in his reporting of the JIC’s public statement, those with the greatest needs for those options are among the happiest about this news:

While the currencies and resulting deal structures are decided solely between buyers and sellers, we cannot drive lasting transformation of the industry individually – we need consensus, compromise, and a shared understanding across all parties to move this industry forward,” said Travis Scoles, senior vice president of advanced advertising at Paramount Global and chairman of the U.S. Joint Industry Committee’s Board of Directors. “The collaboration over the last year to bring buyers and sellers to the same table to work in partnership with the measurement companies, who have dedicated an incredible amount of time, energy and resources to this process, is a testament to this industry’s dedication to progress as we build a more sustainable measurement ecosystem for the future. We applaud the work of all measurement companies and encourage continued innovation as we scale.”

Such a statement wasn’t surprising; after all, it’s in their membership’s best interest to have as much accuracy and approved options out there.  As Steinberg also noted, besides Paramount Global, it was Fox, NBCUniversal, TelevisaUnivision, and Warner Bros. Discovery (that) launched the so-called JIC in January of last year in a bid to vet and certify a dizzying array of audience-measurement technologies that have come to market in recent months.  

But what was surprising was the endorsement of these options by the CEO of the company that has been the leader in the clubhouse and the “gold standard” that for decades was THE currency which defined upfront transactions.  As MEDIAPOST’s Joe Mandese reported:

Nearly a year after media research rival Comscore sided with Nielsen in a call to support the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) accreditation process, Nielsen is congratulating Comscore for making it across that finish line first in terms of a Big Data measurement solution.

Congratulations to Comscore, Inc. on receiving MRC accreditation for their total household rating and average audience estimates in national and local TV time-based grid reports,” Nielsen CEO Karthik Rao said in a post on his LinkedIn profile shortly after Comscore announced the news.  “The more accredited data there is in the marketplace the better it is for everyone — buyers, sellers, viewers and all of us devoted to the science of audience measurement,” Rao continued, adding: “Nielsen’s been honored to have shared the benefits of accredited services with our clients for many decades, and we’re proud of the rigor and investment we’ve committed to shepherding ten of our audience measurement products through the MRC process. We welcome Comscore to the club.”

Several fellow veteran researchers were quick to praise Rao for what they saw as a menschy move.  Per Mandese:

This is a classy post,” long-time media researcher and consultant Marshall Cohen said in a reply to Rao’s post.

“Pro move,” commented Coleytown Advisors Founder and President Bruce Haymes.

But considering all of the missteps , including an almost inconceivably long delay in obtaining the accredidation to finally give the industry what it so desperately needs–an accepted currency that measures viewership and ads across ALL devices, with accurate geodemographics, for linear and digital destinations, in a timely manner (say, something earlier than 35 days), that have defined Rao’s tenure at the top of a company whose investors dropped $16 billion on in the hopes of maintaining their stranglehold on the mindsets of buyers, I’m not so sure his bosses see this olive branch in as positive a manner as objective observers do.

Perhaps it’s because my history of employers were (are?) far more aggressive and ruthless competitors.  The Nielsen I did business with over those years, as I know Cohen would assert, was rarely as embracing of competitors as Rao is, and often that would be just before they swallowed them up or forced them out of business by responding to their clients’ needs.  AGB?  Arbitron?  ScanAmerica?  Neurofocus?  Scarborough?  All at one time viable challengers to Nielsen.  All either became Nielsen divisions or ceased to exist.

In a healthier and more stable market, I’d offer those possibilities might be in store for the likes of Videoamp and Comscore.  And maybe, just maybe, they might.

Or maybe it could be the other way around.  After all, that ROI on Nielsen isn’t looking particularly healthy of late.

So yes, I’ll be watching what unfolds at these upfronts, because I still hold out hope that the business can and will become healthier.  The influx of larger, accurately measured ad-supported platforms from the likes of Prime Video, Netflix and what appears to be a rapidly consolidating Disney make it all the more intriguing, and any company capable of more transparently measuring them in a competitive landscape is one I’m rooting for.   Right now, it’s taking a Frankenmetrics mashup of several of them to accomplish that for buyers, observers, and, of course, investors.  Some sort of actual alliance–be it acquisition or merger, would make that process much easier and, ultimately, more cost-effective.

I just wonder how many of those negotiations will be paralleling those taking place over the next few months.  And whether or not Rao’s “classy move” was merely a make-nice to his future partners–or bosses.

For those of you will be part of these upfronts–keep your eyes and ears open.

Until next time…

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