Upfront Relevancy and the Importance (Or Not) of Data. The IRTS Newsmakers Panel.

The IRTS is an industry organization of top media executives and also serves as a charity to build future leaders and industry diversity through an educational program initiative. The recent Newsmaker Breakfast not only recognized the thirty students comprising this year’s IRTS fellows program, it also offered a provocative panel of noted agency leaders moderated by Jack Myers, Chairman and Founder of Myersbiznet.

The panel included Lori Hiltz, CEO Global Brands, Havas Media Group, Dave Penski, Chief Investment Officer, Publicis Media, Dani Benowitz, EVP Director of Investment, Magna Global, Rino Scanzoni , Chief Investment Officer, GroupM and Donnie Williams, Chief Digital Officer, Horizon Media. Myers led a lively discussion of the state of the industry from the upfront and newfront to data, automation and disintermediation. 

Upfront 2016
“The upfront has taken some interesting turns this year,” Myers began, “What do you see happening?” Hiltz responded, “The Upfront is the social currency of our industry. It doesn't matter what platform or channel – we are platform agnostic when it comes to investment. But the Upfront becomes the jump start.” Scanzoni countered, “The Upfront marketplace is irrelevant to what the overall market really is. Last year we saw market declines and this year we expect to see low to single digit growth. There is change and disruption but the fundamentals of our business are not changing.” “There is more of a shift from national TV into digital. We have been looking at digital holistically for a while as a way to reach consumers,” Benowitz noted.

The Importance of Data and Closed Loop Initiatives
 Is data a game changer? “We are all talking about data,” Scanzoni said, “But there is nothing new about data. Yes it is more sophisticated and there is more first and third party data. But we’ve used data in TV for many years. We are doing it better – it is more objective and reliable - but there is no nirvana here using data.” But data is being collected and leveraged in new ways. “The closed loop is new,” said Myers. “There are closed loop initiatives from companies like NBCU, Viacom and Turner. Do they have scale and are they sustainable?” Scanzoni responded, “If I were a seller I would do exactly that but as a buyer I do not see the value in closed loops. You have to have a consistent data set to apply to a full TV portfolio. The correlations are different between Kantar and Nielsen, for example. They point you in different directions. You need a consistent dataset and have to find a way to optimize across vendors. Sellers have to work as a group but that is impossible because they have their own self interests. Agencies need to choose data and do their own correlations.”

Automation versus Human Relationships
Programmatic continues to loom large over the industry. Williams noted, “Programmatic has the ability to help decision-making over multiple media touch points, which is great. Investments become more efficient and it is a true value proposition.” But what about the balance between sales automation and the human relationships that are the cornerstone of our business? Penski responded that, “Relationships are important if not more important in the industry now. We have added people to our staff because to buy programmatically now requires even more people. Keeping talent is a big challenge for us. We are still a very human based industry.” Benowitz added, “It is not a matter of traditional versus programmatic. There is room for both. We look at content, engagement and watercooler talk. But the ability to buy auto intenders is certainly where we should be headed. It won't go all one way or the other. It still takes two people talking to hear the passion in their voice. If we lose that we are in a different place.”

Looking Ahead
Between the impact of data and programmatic on creative and consumers, the industry continues to evolve and innovate. Some final words of wisdom were offered by the panel. Benowitz advised, “Don't be afraid. There is a lot going on but there is room to do business.”  Penski added, “There is still a need for humans in our ecosystem. We must continue to work together and find ways to bring competitors together to work together. It is not just about data.”

This article first appeared on www.MediaBizBloggers.com

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