Advanced data talk takes over the upfront

Campaign Savvy wordmark with headshot of Campaign US editor Alison Weissbrot

TV buying is getting technical as the 2022 upfront season begins.

Longtime TV buyers may find themselves out of place at this year’s upfront as conversations about unified IDs, clean rooms and data interoperability move to the forefront of negotiations.

Deals that used to be made over a martini lunch and a handshake have evolved into much more complex technology integrations that stitch together reams of cross-platform data to identify, target and measure against audiences that are fragmented across screens.

Rumblings about using more real-time data to keep up with the shift to cross-platform viewership have been ongoing for years. But it feels like the 2022 upfront marks a sea change for the TV marketplace – and the data nerds are giving the suits a run for their money (literally).

Media behemoths Disney and NBCUniversal have leaned heavily into a tech and data-driven narrative ahead of this year’s buying season. It’s not the first time they’ve led the conversation – NBCU in particular has been extremely vocal about its “One Platform” capabilities – but it feels like there is more urgency than ever in light of challenges with Nielsen as the de facto currency.

NBCUniversal on Tuesday hosted its second annual One 22 event, focused on technology and data. In addition to touting its reach (a projected 200 million individuals and 100 million households by 2023), a clean room partnership with Snowflake, new programmatic buying capabilities and commerce integrations, the media giant said it has certified eight new measurement partners as a result of the RFP it kicked off last year to move on from Nielsen’s incumbency.

Those partners include iSpotTV, which NBCU worked with to measure the Olympics and Super Bowl LVI and will use as a currency during the 2022 upfront. Comscore, Conviva and FreeWheel also made the cut. Notably, Nielsen was absent from the list.

“We’re ditching unwieldy, unrepresentative panels that don’t keep up with our sophisticated consumers... and exchanging it for census-level and first-party data,” said Kelly Abcarian, EVP of measurement and impact at NBCUniversal, at the event. “Because accuracy matters. And…identity is the new currency.”

Just a few weeks ago, Disney held a similar tech and data showcase to tout its own data-driven, cross-screen targeting and measurement capabilities to ad buyers. The media giant talked up its first-party data platform, Disney Select, which houses nearly 2,000 audience segments, as well as the Disney Clean Room, which Omnicom Media Group has signed on to use as its first major partner.

As the TV industry forges a new path, Nielsen is furiously working on its NielsenOne currency alternative, set to be delivered in 2024, while fending off a $9 billion takeover bid from a private equity consortium and fighting waning patience and confidence from its customers. Industry leaders tell me there’s a lot to be done, and not a lot of time to do it.

But it’s not just Nielsen that needs to keep up with these seismic shifts.

As the TV marketplace starts to look more like digital, ad buyers and sellers need to properly train and upskill their talent to operate in this new world. Negotiating over rate cards and GRPs is a very different skill set than doing heavy-duty clean room integrations and stitching data sources together in a privacy compliant way to understand cross-screen viewership.

GroupM said this week it is investing more than $15 million over the next three years in educating and upskilling its employees in North America. It will take a similarly significant investment across the industry to ensure the marketplace can keep up with these critical changes to the ad industry’s largest and most important marketplace.

There’s still much to be done, but this year’s upfront is already looking far more advanced than ever before. 

Join Campaign US at our next virtual Tech Talks event, The Future of TV is Now, to learn more about the evolution of the TV marketplace on April 13 at 12pm ET. Register here.

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