Is 2019 The ‘Make-Or-Break’ Year For TV Upfronts?

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NEW YORK — “The pressure is on, more than it has ever been, for traditional players to convince executives, marketers and buyers that they are maintaining relevance for consumers across all demos,” writes The Myers Report lead industry analyst Jeff Minsky in a report distributed Thursday.


Indeed, Silicon Valley’s under-regulated cash-flush GAFANs one year ago had seemingly conquered Hollywood, with out-of-home advertising dominated by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. This week across Midtown Manhattan, it became clear the Upfronts are now under attack.

One of the more ubiquitous signs of the turning tide, and desire of agency and advertiser media buyers to put more dollars into digital marketing solutions, was seen Tuesday morning across from Center415, home to Univision Communications‘ second of two highly experiential 2019 Upfront presentations.

Here, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 37th Street, was a food truck offering free sandwiches and New York’s famed black-and-white cookies as a promotion for Amazon’s The Marvelous Ms. Maisel. It was a partnership with Carnegie Deli, with the truck strategically appearing from Monday through Wednesday in front of every important Upfront locale in Manhattan.

It’s just one cog in a competitive battle that pits traditional media against ad-free OTT services, which are swiftly becoming the dominant award winners at the Emmys and are emerging as key players at the Academy Awards.

As Minsky notes, OTTs are also luring marketers by “continuing to supply rigorous data for audience targeting to the degree of companies like Xandr, and are willing to demonstrate innovation in both strategic communications and compensation.”

With that, The Myers Report estimates that total digital marketing investments in 2019 will surpass $210 billion, with $92 billion committed to digital media advertising. Further, it projects 18% growth in 2020 — $109.5 billion.

Those dollars are no longer just coming from print, newspaper or radio, Minsky says.

“The dollars from TV are starting to flow to digital,” he notes. “While many networks have upped their data game over the past couple of years, programmatic advertising and audience-based targeting continue to be the trend among the larger media buying, holding company-owned agencies that represent billions of dollars of marketer spending.”

The Myers Report’s 2019 Marketplace Assessment: Survey on Media Company B2B Relationships, Services and Value saw 745 respondents from both major media agencies and clients confirm a steady shift in advertising dollar allocation from TV to digital.

However, Minsky finds, “there are some new twists this year that should have TV executives on alert.”

Paging Midge Maisel.

“The big news is that the sleeping giant, Amazon, has its eyes fully set on getting video dollars,” Minsky says. “Amazon, which in recent weeks has been doubling down with IMDB Freedive and with its video-game viewing network, Twitch, continues to benefit from the booming e-Sports world.”

Amazon is poised to see strong growth, with 56% of buyers looking to increase their commitments, he concludes.

Meanwhile, The Myers Report finds that 21% of buyers say they are looking to greatly increase their investment in 2019 in Alphabet brands Google and YouTube.

Then, there is Hulu, which The Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday agreed to own in full by acquiring NBCUniversal parent Comcast‘s stake in the OTT platform.

“Buyers are still very enthused with Hulu,” Minsky says, “with 47% looking to lean into the site to help sell products and services.”

Where’s the money coming from? “Cable networks, overall, look to be flat to down with 17% of buyers looking to decrease spending,” Minsky finds. “Small to mid-size audience cable networks will have to work doubly hard to maintain their budgets, as marketers look to move toward audience-based buying or mass reach squeezing out those in the middle.”

Yet, NBCUniversal’s Upfront 2019 presentation put a significant focus on both over-the-air content and cable TV networks including Bravo, E!, USA Network and SYFY as part of an intentional effort to demonstrate how it can deliver audiences cross-platform and in both English and Spanish, given its ownership of Telemundo and Universo.

For the marketer, Channel 4 may be more desired than Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

The Myers Report finds that 26% of the buyers participating in its survey wish to increase their spending with the major networks.

And, NBCUniversal is in the driver’s seat compared to ABC, FOX or CBS, it adds.

“While those looking to decrease a little or a lot fall within the 12%-18% range for most of the broadcast networks, NBCUniversal [and its] strong data story is only at 7%, directionally indicative that buyers are looking favorably at their strategy,” Minsky says.

That’s good news. But, is it sustainable?

“With the imminent release of Apple+, WarnerMedia, Disney+ and [NBCUniversal’s no-cost OTT platform], in addition to the continued roll-out of massive amounts of ad-free original content on Netflix, Amazon Prime and CBS All-Access, it’s likely that next year’s Upfront will be dramatically different and set against a significantly disrupted consumer media landscape,” Minsky concludes.


RBR+TVBR Editor-in-Chief Adam R Jacobson attended the 2019 Upfront presentations from NBCUniversal and Univision Communications. Visits to radio companies Entercom Communications and Townsquare Media were also conducted, with coverage of what radio’s doing during Upfront Week in New York schedule to appear May 17 at RBR.com.