Digital media high on upfront agenda

Networks' big push is in streaming video

Cast in a supporting role during last year’s upfront meetings, digital media should get above-the-title billing this time around.

“I’ve been in meetings (with advertisers) where 70% of the discussion is on digital,” says Michael Kassan, head of media consultancy MediaLink.

Adds Tim Spengler, chief activation officer for agency Initiative North America, “The digital conversation with media companies is increasingly strategic and beginning to influence what we look for on the traditional side as well.”

In 2006, movie studios spent about $100 million promoting their films on the Internet compared with $1.8 billion on broadcast TV, according to TNS Media Intelligence. However, year-to-year Internet spending by studios increased 61% compared with just 2% for network TV.

“Last year, the networks all realized they had to address digital,” says Margaret Clerkin, CEO of North America for MindShare Interaction. “They were naive in that they thought they could offer it in a cookie-cutter fashion. ‘CSI,’ ‘Lost,’ every show had the same tactics put against it. I would hope now they understand what works and what doesn’t.”

No doubt they do.

The emphasis is evident in the rush to put shows on iTunes and acquire social networking sites like MySpace.

Media buyers and sellers are calling it “the wheel.” It’s the idea that you don’t just buy television anymore, especially network television. What you do, instead, is use the network as the hub of a wheel. Then digital and other emerging platform opportunities become the “spokes.”

That’s a real difference from 2006’s upfront discussions, in which the nets were digital dabblers, offering online and other digital components as add-ons, mostly on an ad hoc basis.

“We haven’t seen one presentation that doesn’t come with a menu of additional options available for every vendor for extension of a base campaign to seven or eight different venues: streaming, repeat programming, mobile, podcasts,” says Aaron Cohen, exec VP and director of broadcast for Horizon Media.

The big push by the networks is in streaming video (still not a giant number, with some buyers estimating a total of $700 million in online video deals made last year).

This is an area where many media buyers, particularly those with studio accounts, expect to see movie marketers take a vanguard position. They are, after all, among the first of the Internet marketing pioneers.

But behind the scenes, the networks are also integrating their sales forces and making it easier for buyers. For example, “the major networks are forming video production units, like NBC Digital Studios, for use by marketers,” says Fred Sattler, exec VP and general manager of PHD in Detroit. “This will allow us to extend integrations that will be tailored to the specific medium and our clients’ marketing needs.”

And then there’s mobile, a technology that entertainment marketers see a lot of possibilities in.

This is “a huge opportunity for studios,” claims Rino Scanzoni, Group M’s chief investment officer for North America. “People make decisions a couple of hours before they sit down in a theater. You use TV to generate awareness and use some of these new technologies that are much better in activation. It’s an area they will probably lead in.”

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