Fragmented identity: Why the 2022 upfronts have TV advertisers anxious

The TV upfronts are here, and for many, this year’s go-around is a bit nerve-wracking.

In the past, there’s been a relatively routine process of buying advertising packages up front with television networks, and then supplementing throughout the rest of the advertising season. While it’s always been somewhat a game of strategy and risk, this year the latter side of the equation feels even larger. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, even made a direct comparison in a recent ANA speech between the upfront buying process and toilet paper hoarding.   

Connected TV (CTV) and streaming are disrupting the normal upfronts process in a big way. We saw the supplanting of linear TV by CTV coming a long time ago, but the pandemic accelerated the shift. eMarketer data predicts that by 2023, CTV ad spend will surpass linear

No TV advertiser could have planned for this extremely sudden exponential growth of CTV and streaming, but now the industry is faced with adapting to very new consumer preferences and patterns for which there is more data, but less experience and proven track record on the marketers’ side. How are advertisers meeting this challenge?  

Staying in the comfort zone of the old upfront process 

Many advertisers are, understandably, planning to navigate the upfronts the same as always: allocating certain portions of their campaign budgets at the start of the advertising season. But this time around, instead of signing those deals with just linear TV networks based on their programming, they’re doing so also with streaming platforms like Hulu, Roku and the brand-new ad-supported Disney+ and Netflix tiers. These high-profile platforms offer up demographic data on their audiences, as well as opportunities for incremental reach measurement to assess impact of cross-platform advertising (think NBCUniversal/Peacock package deals). 

This was perhaps the best approach when there were only one or two streaming players offering ad-supported content. But with the massive increase in streaming platform options as well as the shorter length of TV shows (Business Insider points out that “Original streaming shows have an average lifespan of two seasons, compared to four seasons on cable and six-and-a-half seasons on broadcast networks”), consumer viewing patterns are much less predictable than many marketers are used to. Not to mention the fact that it can be difficult for these platforms to track incremental reach for their subscribers across their many devices and users.  

All of this is compounded by the fact that YouTube, which just announced it will feature in this year’s upfronts, accounts for more than 50% of ad-supported streaming watch time on connected TVs among those 18 and up. 

The fragmented viewing patterns (the average US household now uses 4.7 streaming services) mean that advertisers run the risk of ad redundancy and poor frequency management, which could lead to wasted ad dollars that could be spent reaching new prospects. With customers fragmenting their viewing across so many different platforms and devices, it’s extremely difficult to accurately measure impact, as well. It’s no wonder advertisers don’t know how to handle the upfronts this year with all these risks top of mind.  

But, there is a future-focused approach to working with CTV advertising and it’s the inherent reality of fragmented viewing. 

Keeping in mind connected identity during the upfronts season 

Consumers live a connected life across many devices and platforms, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

The good news is that there are technology solutions and data experts today that can align all activity for consumers—between their many device IDs, streaming platforms, browsers and accounts—to one stable ID. This connected identity capability enables marketers to make real-time omnichannel decisions based on their true target consumers, and then accurately measure campaign performance across all touchpoints. 

And these solutions not only can function between various OTT streaming and video on demand platforms but also factor programmatic cross-channel advertising into the campaign equation, making sure that the “connected” portion of CTV is fully leveraged as one element of a broader, cross-medium customer existence. For instance, how often are you on your mobile device, perhaps skimming a news article, while watching a TV show? Based on the data, I’d wager quite a bit. 


Solving the identity crisis

See the infographic

Fear of change is understandable, but that doesn’t have to stand in the way of optimization

Advertisers used to buy digital ad spaces and bundles with individual online publishers, just like they used to do with individual print publishers. But that was 1994—almost three decades ago. As advertising capabilities became more sophisticated over time, accurate, stable identity solutions came into the picture. Brands can now serve personalized ads across digital channels to real individual consumers—not through just cookies, devices IDs or individual publishers.

Connected identity is the next level of advertising (particularly in the era of third-party identifier deprecation), and now TV is a new, and very large, piece of that puzzle. In many ways, the rise of CTV allows us to see even fuller pictures of consumers, and serve them the most relevant ads without redundancy. 

Wanting to stick to traditional buys when it comes to this year’s upfronts is entirely understandable, just as it was in 1994 during the shift toward digital media. But savvy advertisers can learn from that shift and avoid the tumult of CTV’s awkward years we’re in right now. This doesn’t mean turning entirely away from the upfronts – but rather running a targeted approach across channels, reaching an exact audience when they are actually watching the premium inventory sources with whom upfront deals are made.  

Keeping one eye on what’s worked in the past and one on the future can help with upfronts anxiety. The future is connected, omnichannel identity—and that includes CTV.