Media Buying Briefing: Is Q4 scatter in video going to be tight for the first time since the pandemic?

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This Media Buying Briefing covers the latest in agency news and media buying for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Monday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

It’s no secret among media sellers of video ad time that this almost-concluded upfront marketplace, representing more than $20 billion in advertiser dollars, was a buyer’s market.

Televised sports remains the last bastion of strength for linear TV (broadcast and cable) in a writers’ strike-affected environment — it’s selling gangbusters, agreed several buyers and sellers of ad time. The rest of TV is far less of a tight buy (except that linear networks are already said to be putting aside inventory for audience deficiencies and makegoods).

It’s creating marketplace conditions that haven’t happened since before the 2020 pandemic — possible tightness in the fourth-quarter scatter marketplace (the ad inventory that sellers sell quarter by quarter that wasn’t committed to in the upfront). And the sales side would like to see that happen — they are eager to make up for dollar-volume shortfalls and even pricing rollbacks that adversely affected their ad-revenue totals. 

But buyers, having just gotten the upper hand on pricing, and clients, who are releasing budgets much closer to airtime thanks to greater flexibility they’ve been offered by TV sellers, aren’t about to let the pendulum swing back so easily. 

“It’s not like, oh, there’s suddenly all this money flooding in that points to a really tight market in Q4, but I think that there is some truth to [the fact that] it’s not a normal Q4,” said one major-agency chief investment officer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The budgets keep moving so fast that there is a chance that money could be coming in more close to the quarter than usual.”

Fast-moving dollars — the opposite of what just went down in the upfront — usually means buy soon or get swept up in rising prices.

“I’ve been telling clients, if you’re going to have some scatter, or having some volatility with your budgets, and you think they’re going to be up, you need to place them soon,” said the buyer. “If a few advertisers come in with money in Q4, those prices are going to start to soar because those sellers are going to have to make up what they lost in the upfront and [to] increase pricing. As soon as they get a hint that there’s money, those prices are gonna go up. And so you need to be somewhat first in.”

Not every buyer is seeing the same impact on Q4 coming out of this drawn out upfront — some are even using that lack of momentum to keep scatter pricing down. “We have had no issues landing Q3 scatter and all added Q4 spending is being rolled into upfronts at upfront pricing without issue,” said another major chief investment executive who also spoke on background.

A third investment executive at another major agency group agreed with the second. “Fourth quarter is a place where [sellers] are desperate for dollars. And I don’t know how linear TV, with the writers’ strike in prime-time and late-night, would see an influx of spending. Typically, the dollar dump comes in December.”

The third buyer added that even though there’s little left of Q3 on the calendar, “what’s really interesting is I’m getting more phone calls for people looking for money now, especially in digital video, which I find fascinating.”

Sellers know that how they end the year will have a big impact on how 2024 goes down.

Sean McCaffrey, CEO at GSTV, which sells ad time around content on video screens at gas stations, noted that besides shorter windows to sell, budget fluidity from clients and their agencies makes the stakes even higher. “Fourth quarter, not just holiday, is still so important to so many verticals, and it also tees up the new year,” said McCaffrey, who just hit his sixth anniversary running GSTV. “The second half of any year for a media seller is crucial to set up the following year. So advertisers are still spending — they’re spending differently, they’re spending more fluidly.”

So where’s the money flowing to? The third buyer pointed directly at streaming/CTV. “We all truly believe that we should be relying less on linear and more on digital video,” she said. “The deep content will attract more viewers and we know consumption is going there. It takes a strike to get people to shift. I wish it was a little bit happening faster. Are CPMs coming down? Absolutely. Are they the same as linear? No, but they’re getting there, they’re getting closer.”

With sellers further down the food chain, like GSTV or cinema ad firm Screenvision, the hope is that having more inventory available can help when linear and CTV fill up. “We typically sell about 55 to 60% of our inventory in upfront, and we’ll be a little bit under that this year,” said Christine Martino, Screenvision’s CRO. “that 10-15% of dollars that were held back from the upfront will resurface. Even if it’s just 5-10%, that’s still a decent amount of money flowing into the scatter marketplace.”

So thinks every video seller heading into Q4. 

Color by numbers

You have to admit those true crime podcasts can be addicting. MediaRadar’s podcast research from January 2022 to July 2023 showed 42% of Americans 12-plus reported listening to a podcast in the past month – and ad spending is up 5% year-over-year in the U.S. — to $2.17 billion, according to one eMarketer estimate. The biggest growth came from comedy, true crime, and business shows. — Antoinette Siu

More stats:

  • The top five categories of comedy, news, true crime, politics/business and society/culture accounted for a combined spending of 58% of total ad spend.
  • For business, ad revenue rose 30% year over year, with significant investments from Amazon, Athletic Greens/AG1 and Shopify.
  • In crime, ad spending increased 26% year over year, with advertisers HelloFresh, Progressive Auto Insurance and SimpliSafe investing.
  • Comedy showed only 10% year-over-year growth, with BetterHelp, Squarespace and UNest upping their spend on a laugh or two.

Takeoff & landing

  • GroupM is partnering with SeenThis to use the latter’s measurement tools tracking carbon emissions to inform its media planning for clients with an eye toward carbon reduction or elimination without affecting performance. 
  • IPG Mediabrands partnered with Google to develop two AI-powered tools/platforms: Branded Content Generation (BrandVoice AI) and Audience & Research Insights (BrandPortrait AI)
  • Stagwell’s Assembly hired Greg Shickle to be its first chief activation officer for Europe. Also, Stagwell’s ReachTV OOH TV network hired George Sealey as exec vp of development and production. 
  • Independent media agency Camelot has been busy striking lots of deals recently — the latest being a partnership with commerce data platform Attain, which accesses first-party commerce data from McDonald’s, Whole Foods and Carl’s Jr. 

Direct quote

“You can point to a lot of things and ask, ‘Is this the Metaverse?’ And for some of them, the answer is yes. For some of them, the answer is partially yes. And for some the answer is definitely no — even though that’s what it’s calling itself.”

— Digiday’s gaming/esports reporter Alexander Lee, who along with Digiday Media’s audio and multimedia producer Sara Patterson, is rolling out a new podcast called, aptly, Is This the Metaverse?

Speed reading

  • Senior martech reporter Marty Swant continues to cover the major developments coming at a rapid clip around generative AI, and he wrapped up last week’s news into a handy roundup. 
  • Media agency reporter Antoinette Siu dug through some research that showed  that YouTube, not Twitch surprisingly, is the biggest draw of gaming-related content for teenagers. 
  • And I looked into the topic of in-housing and how the holding companies have their own strategies to keep themselves involved in clients’ business — by being experts in ad-tech.

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