Digital Video to Carve Into TV Budgets: Variety Summit Panel

The explosive growth of Internet-distributed video across multiple screens will result in marketers increasingly diverting dollars to digital and away from traditional TV, according to panelists at the Variety Entertainment & Technology Summit in New York Thursday.

Last year marked a “seminal shift” for TV as consumers, especially younger audiences, watched less television as they migrate to other screens and other kinds of content, Universal McCann chief investment officer David Cohen said. In addition, total digital ad spending (including video) eclipsed TV in 2014. Cohen expects upfronts spending to be down 7%-10% in 2015, as marketers move money to digital platforms or hold back budget for opportunistic buys.

“The horse is out of the stable,” he said. “You have a limited pool of dollars, and you have to decide, is it better to spend that on 15- or 30-second (TV) ads or with Yahoo or AOL or Maker Studios.” Agencies and brands now have better data to answer that question, Cohen said: “We know the value of advertising across screens… and can move dollars accordingly.”

Courtney Holt, COO of Disney’s Maker Studios, sees the main demarcation between TV and digital video as having different audience demographics. Average age of U.S. TV viewers is 57, while Maker focuses on a 13-34 audience. “Traditional 30-second advertising is great, and it works for a certain subset of the population,” he said. But younger audiences (including his kids) aren’t watching linear TV, preferring to consume TV programming and other video content on-demand on multiple screens.

Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of BroadbandTV, said reaching audiences involves tailoring content to different screens in a way that makes sense given the usage patterns on each platform. “You can’t just say ‘millennials’ and that’s it,” she said.

The session was geared around a discussion of the 2015 Digital Content NewFronts, a series of digital-media presentations that kicked off this week.

The NewFronts have “morphed into a bazaar of content and marketing opportunities,” Cohen said, which he said are offering an impressive amount of scale. But he questioned the value of the timing, predicting seasonal events like the upfronts and NewFronts will fade away. “It will be an always-on marketplace,” he said.

AOL, at its NewFronts event Tuesday, announced a “Content 365” strategy, which aims to present fresh content every day of the year, said Dermot McCormack, president of AOL Video and Studios. “We are moving from an upfront season to an ‘upfront year,'” he said. “We want to come back in September with more stuff for advertisers… and bring stuff to market every quarter.”

Panelists also discussed the opportunities for digital media companies to work with advertisers on branded content. Yahoo recently launched a sixth season of “Community,” after it was canceled by NBC, and cut a deal with Honda to integrate its brand and vehicles into the episodes. After watching an episode with Honda branding, 50% of viewers indicated they are more likely to buy a Honda, according to Lisa Utzschneider, senior VP of Americas sales for Yahoo.

“With our custom integration with Honda on ‘Community,’ they’re in the actual series, there’s integrated branding… and more important we’re able to track the performance,” she said.

AOL’s McCormack noted that millennial audiences are “more open to brand messages in content, as long as it serves the story.”

Custom programming costs more than traditional advertising but delivers much better performance, UM’s Cohen said. Branded content is two to three times more expensive than regular ads in premium content, but it drives six to seven times the results in terms of key metrics, he said.

BroadbandTV, a large multichannel network operator owned by European broadcast group RTL Group, has built a “collaboration engine” for its content creators that lets them express which products or services they are willing to work into their videos. “What we get from our creators is what brands they like, which ones they want to support,” she said, adding that about half of BroadbandTV’s 32,000 creators use the collaboration engine.

The panel also covered the rise of “programmatic” ad buying, in which data is used to automate placement of advertising against relevant content. While digital video publishers will continue to have great opportunities to sell premium inventory, programmatic will become much more prevalent in the next few years, said McCormack.

“Wall Street went programmatic 10 year ago — that’s what going to happen to advertising,” he said.

There’s no shortage of advertising data to crunch, Cohen said. But the industry still hasn’t cracked the code on measuring cross-platform video ads in a consistent way. Research firms will get there, he said, but today “having a single source that allows us to measure apples-to-apples doesn’t really exist in the market.”

The panel was moderated by Andrew Wallenstein, Variety co-editor-in-chief.

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