The big players in online video will be joining the US broadcast networks in holding their own upfront events in May,  known as the ‘Digital Content New Fronts’, in New York to showcase their content to advertisers. Approximately $15 billion of the $60 billion spent on TV advertising in the US is spent at the upfronts. This year the new breed of content producers – Microsoft, Google/YouTube, Hulu, AOL and Yahoo – will join the TV industry and hold their own event to present their online alternatives.

Upfront events play a vital role in the US TV industry, as they enable broadcasters to plan future productions and predict cash flow. Every year, during the third week of May, US networks set up shop in hotels and at  glamorous venues across New York in an attempt to woo agencies and advertisers. Autumn schedules are announced, top shows are screened, and celebrities are shipped in to give advertisers a taste of Hollywood glitz.

The emergence of digital upfronts is yet another example of the online video leaders imitating the TV industry. The TV industry has demonstrated its resilience and remains the top dog in advertising. In spite of its rapid growth, the US video advertising market is worth just $2 billion – that’s the same amount the TV industry would be hoping to make in just one day at the upfronts.

So it’s hardly surprising that we see the online players aping the TV networks at every opportunity. Lessons have been learned and the digital giants have learned that a little humility and a simplified message is more likely to unlock brand budgets than tech talk. The reality is that delivering a spiel about RTB and DSPs appears to either be too confusing or too boring for people outside digital advertising.

The conversation has now shifted away from tech and the digital pitch is now designed to make brand advertisers feel at home. You want exclusive content? You got it. You want TV-style audience metrics and audience measurement? We’ll provide them. And later on, once you’ve settled in, maybe then we can have a talk about how we can optimise your spend across all of our digital channels. But don’t worry about that just yet.

It’s difficult to gauge how these moves are being perceived by TV executives. On the one hand, they’ve seen what has happened in print and music and are probably feeling a little anxious. On the other, they’re still winning the big budgets and they’ve made moves into online via VOD and with online publishing. However, the game isn’t just about content any more. It’s about the control of entire ecosystems – ecosystems that are increasingly controlled by the likes of Google, Apple and to a lesser extent Microsoft. Not having a stake in those ecosystems exposes companies to the risk of being sidelined further down the road.


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