Connected TV

Upfronts 2024: How Fragmentation, New Models, and Brand-fluencers Are Shaping the Future of Connected TV

The MNTN team breaks down this year's biggest headlines, from Netflix's big ad tech announcement to CNN's "long game" sponsorships.

Upfronts 2024: How Fragmentation, New Models, and Brand-fluencers Are Shaping the Future of Connected TV

8 Min Read

The upfronts has come and gone for another year, but it’s left many questions about Connected TV and its place in the digital ecosystem. Here’s what we had to say about it.

Mel Yap (Content Marketing Lead): Hi all, well it’s a bittersweet moment as we mark our last thought leadership and the upfronts just wrapped up. I’ve been keeping an eye out the headlines as the presentations finished yesterday. This one from Adweek stood out to me in particular – CNN is going in a new direction with their ad offerings and explore explore longer-running sponsorships that go beyond a 30″ ad spot. According to CNN’s CEO and Chairman Mark Thompson, “the idea of finding an audience and building it from platform to platform is—for a certain kind of advertiser—a much deeper relationship than just placing 30-second spots.” We talk often a lot about the benefits of non-skippable ads served on Connected TV, since they help brands tell their story and connect with the customer. Your thoughts?

Jacob Trussell (Content Marketing Lead): What I find interesting about this CNN story is that it kinda-sorta seems to mirror the relationship between brands and influencers we see in social media, with one using the other to boost their engagement through strategic partnerships. Now we may be seeing this same type of relationship but between streamers and brands. If it’s successful, we could enter the era of the “brand-fluencer”. This ultimately could lead to brands being able to tell longer, more fully realized stories, while being able to signal boost it through the relationship with a streamer like CNN. I think the idea behind that — which is to help brands build a strong relationship with consumers — is definitely something publishing platforms like CNN should be focusing on. It centers on the idea of taking a more holistic approach, and a smart way for a publisher like CNN is leveraging their portfolio and offering more opportunities tied to the content they produce.

Tim Edmundson (Senior Director, Content Marketing): I think the idea behind that — which is to help brands build a strong relationship with consumers — is definitely something publishing platforms like CNN should be focusing on. It centers on the idea of taking a more holistic approach, and a smart way for a publisher like CNN is leveraging their portfolio and offering more opportunities tied to the content they produce. It’s similar to a principle smart advertisers employ every day. They look at the ad opportunities available to them and try to find a way to immerse their audience across each channel, be it search, social, CTV, content marketing, etc..  CNN is taking that ethos and offering an even deeper way to reach audiences that are watching their networks

Isabel Greenfield (Content Marketing Manager): I agree that content providers are looking to make holistic packages for their advertisers to utilize all they have to offer in terms of data and advertising opportunities. Amazon is another great example of a content provider doing this. This headline says it all – by introducing advertising to their channel, they have “connected the dots.” Amazon is certainly in a unique position since they also have so much shopping data and by making the ad-tier the default for all subscribers, they will reach the largest audience for ad-supported subscription video in 2024 according to eMarketer

Matt Collins (Director, Product Marketing): Izzy is onto it, as usual. She reveals a distinction in the way publishers are showcasing their platforms for advertisers during the upfronts. You have CNN and others packaging their content across digital and linear channels and tweaking their ad formats to enable advertisers to tell more contextually relevant stories, and you have Amazon promising tools that enable advertisers to connect the dots (code for audience data) across their retail and media platforms. Both strategies have merit, but the performance marketer in me will be eager to see how Amazon executes.

Cat Hausler (Content Marketing Manager): All good points! I do wonder though if these types of advertising opportunities will appeal to smaller/lesser known brands? In trying to create better strategic partnerships and bigger, more holistic advertising opportunities, CNN, Amazon, and the like could run the risk of alienating some brands. But perhaps the advertisers that don’t fit this mold aren’t their ideal advertising customer anyways? The issue might become more stark if the majority of streaming and other CTV advertising platforms follow suit.

Jacob Trussell: What you mentioned Cat about alienating certain business actually gets at something that came to my mind as I was reading about WBD’s new ad products. What that story mentioned is how there are these new tools that WBD and other streamers are introducing that will let advertisers tailor messages to match the emotional tone of specific content moments.

Great idea on paper, and I certainly think it will provide more specificity and nuance to targeting, but how it will be executed remains to be seen (I’m already envisioning the brand safety concerns that could arise). But more so, I have this feeling it’ll cause a certain kind of friction that isn’t being considered: only brands with larger budgets will be able to fully utilize a tool like this. Why? Because if you want to match your ad with the emotional tone of a specific moment, and you want to reach the most consumers across the most content, you’re going to need a lot of video content that can speak to our array of emotions. You’ll need to have a sad ad, a scary ad, a happy ad, a “mercury is in retrograde” ad, a “the world is on fire and that’s ok” ad, and so on.

You can get creative with how you shoot and edit your footage to keep costs low when scaling your content, but regardless, you’ll need a higher production budget than you would for a regular campaign — something a lot of brands may not have access to. This means these new tools could effectively raise the barrier of entry back up on CTV advertising for certain small and midsize businesses. So I think what we’ll want to look out for is how these streamers/publishers can make these tools more accessible to more businesses so they aren’t just catering to the big blue chip brands who will have the budgets to gobble up inventory (and inevitably market share.)

Steven Graveman (Content Marketing Manager): To Jacob’s point, one of the biggest benefits of CTV was that it democratized TV advertising for brands of all sizes. Streamers need to be cautious that they’re not retreating back and raising the barrier to entry once again.

Tim Edmundson: Yeah it’s definitely a matter of who their ideal advertiser customer is. The points you’re all raising definitely suggests that they are focusing on the bigger brands out there, which makes total sense since these upfronts cater toward those types of advertisers. They may still have some tricks up their sleeves to make their ad offerings more accessible and to tap into that emerging market of new TV advertisers, but that remains to be seen! It’s definitely a big opportunity, since 90% of MNTN’s customers are first time TV advertisers.

Jacob Trussell: It feels like we’re seeing two different minds of thinking coming out of this years upfronts. There is what Amazon is doing connecting the audience data dots, and what CNN is proposing with their contextual, brand focused approach. I’ll be curious to see how these two tactics shake out over the next year and change, and what new strategies will emerge.

Reading through upfront news, all I keep coming back to is: how many of these new tools/solutions/channels will actually be around in a year, two years? What’s going to prove stickiest? It seems streamers and legacy media are in a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” phase. They’re hitching hope on making the TV shopping experience more seamless for consumers, while at the same time making it more measurable for advertisers. My gut says the data-driven approach will have legs, because the contextual approach may be harder to quantify in the long run. And as we all know: brands and advertisers live and breathe on customer data, and the solution that gets them that data faster is likely the one that climbs to the top.

Mel Yap: I’m wondering if one of those things that sticks is that these streaming networks eventually move all of their adtech inhouse – Netflix announced they’ll be launching to give advertisers more control and transparency into what they’re buying. The question remains – what will happen to CTV platforms like MNTN if everything ends up being a walled garden?

Jacob Trussell: I think what will benefit a platform like MNTN is that there has historically been healthy skepticism in the industry towards walled gardens, and how they operate (sometimes) with a lack of transparency, despite positioning themselves as being transparent. This article from AdExchanger details some of those issues that brands can face advertising in walled gardens. So I don’t know if there is a future where everything is behind a walled garden, though it’s certainly possible (and I think it’s safe to say that certain platforms will go hard on becoming a walled garden). But I think if it did, the fragmentation we’re seeing already happening in the streaming world could get worse, and that’s something I don’t think any advertiser wants. Though I think coming to that conclusion will be a learning curve for these in-house ad tech platforms.

Mel Yap: If anything, fragmentation underscores the importance of having an audience-first approach, instead of buying directly with network/shows – something we know all too well. Thanks for the chat team! Until next year’s upfronts.

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