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by Jessica Heygate | May 17, 2024

Nielsen panel remains primary currency as buyers chart familiar territory.

Upfront presentations chartered familiar territory this week and deals are expected to transact in primarily the same way they have for decades, as the entertainment industry struggles to rid itself of the shackles of the past.

There was a lot of chatter among media folks about innovating TV formats and modes of buying in the run up to the annual advertising event, as there is every year. From moving away from panel-based measurement to embracing shoppable TV, 2024 was set to be the year that everything changed.

The wheels were set in motion in January, when Nielsen launched its much-anticipated cross-platform measurement solution, Nielsen One Ads, and Amazon introduced ads to Prime Video, triggering predictions of a major shake-up of the streaming ad landscape.

Another year of the Nielsen panel

Years ago, the advertising industry universally agreed that measuring TV campaigns from a panel of consumers was inaccurate and outdated, leading to the proliferation of alternative TV currencies built by stitching together first- and third-party sets from set-top boxes, smart TVs and streaming platforms.

These alternatives have since gained traction, with VideoAmp leading the pack due to the speed at which it integrated with all the major media companies. NBCU selected VideoAmp to power its One Platform Total Audience solution in March.

“VideoAmp was ready first, that is what set it apart,” said Magna VP of media intelligence Stefanie Morales.

Yet upfront deals this year are still expected to be transacted mostly on Nielsen panel data, chiefly because advertisers have not moved on from buying broad demographics such as age and gender and into strategic audiences.

“I think pragmatically the real story this year is still Nielsen panel only versus Nielsen with big data, because a lot of advertisers are still buying on a demo and that has a lot to do with historic cost bases and how they’ve traditionally purchased television,” said OMD USA chief investment officer Kelly Metz.

Data discrepancies and technical challenges within Nielsen One data mean buyers don’t yet have confidence to transition the product as the de facto TV currency.

“We have to have confidence in the audience estimates, and that seems to be the point of friction right now,” said Metz.

She expects the shift to Nielsen One to be an “incremental change” over the next broadcast year. “We thought we could rip off the Band-Aid and it would be this year, but it’s going to take longer than anybody wants it to,” she continued.

Both Morales and Metz are hopeful that cross-channel measurement will be widely adopted in 2025’s upfront season.

David Cohen, CEO of trade organization the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said radical shifts are uncommon in the ad industry.

“The business does a lot of talking, and then when push comes to shove, it takes a long time for change to happen,” he explained.

He said that media buyers are struggling to contend with disparities between how each currency vendor reports ad events. For that reason, some believe the alternatives are “not ready for prime time,” Cohen said.

Shoppable TV is still niche

Amazon is thought of by some as an unbeatable force in the streaming landscape; Metz described it as a “juggernaut,” while Morales said it has “the richest” first-party data of its peers.

The retail giant’s entrance into TV advertising triggered media companies Disney, NBCUniversal (NBCU), Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) to ramp up their commerce integrations in a bid to ride on the excitement around shoppable TV.

The tie-up between streaming and commerce were prominent themes during Disney and NBCU’s tech and developer conferences in January and March, respectively, with each announcing capabilities to enable viewers to shop products they see within shows from their remotes.

Disney brings more automation and shopability to its ad products

Yet to the surprise of some media buyers, retail was barely mentioned during upfront presentations this week.

The traditional entertainment companies focused most of their performance conversation on audience statistics, trying to outshine each other with their reach across different demographics and platforms. Only WBD announced a commerce product; shoppable ads on Max via a partnership with Kerv Interactive.

Even Amazon skirted over the allure of TV and commerce combined during its debut upfront. Amazon executives briefly referenced the company’s vast customer database and how it can use shopping insights to power ads on Prime Video, but provided few specifics.

Amazon touches on streaming and commerce tie-up in celebrity-heavy upfront

Instead, the majority of airtime at Amazon’s event was given to shows, sports and celebrities. A media buyer, speaking on background, said they thought Amazon’s strategy was designed to get advertisers to see it as a content studio that can rival the likes of Disney and NBCU, because it has historically been viewed as having weaker IP. But this was a “misstep” for Amazon, they thought, because its strength will always be its data.

Another theory behind the lack of commerce chatter during upfront week is that the technology is not scalable yet because the consumer experience is clunky.

“There has to be a better consumer experience in order to see the conversion rates actually climb,” said Metz.

She said OMD is working with clients on shoppable spots as part of broader media campaigns as opposed to it being the main component of a strategy.

“There’s just a fundamental truth around the television as a device — that it will be a fully functioning shopping experience. But will it be that in the next broadcast year? Probably not,” Metz said.