The future of television may be digital, but if you're a player in the digital space looking at the meetings and parties taking place as television networks wrap up their annual upfront sales efforts, it's hard not to be a little bit jealous at all the money that still gets lavished at broadcast and cable ad inventory.

So this year, some digital players are hosting their own "upfronts" in an effort to get advertisers thinking about the commitments they should be making to digital ads.

The idea that digital might try to get a piece of the upfront action is not new, but for obvious reasons, television's upfront continues to be a source of envy for many pushing digital inventory.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, "Today, most online advertising campaigns are bought close to when they run." Yet "major broadcast networks generally secure commitments for about three-quarters of their commercial time in conjunction with the upfront [and] cable networks usually lock in commitments for half." That's big money for networks, all secured in advance.

But even if digital media sellers try to secure greater commitments up front, even if they're not structured exactly like television upfronts, should advertisers really be interested?

That's questionable. There's far more digital ad inventory than there is television ad inventory, and the market for buying it is far more fluid and efficient.

Today, thanks to sophisticated web analytics tools and DSPs, advertisers have the ability to optimize their campaigns, shifting budgets and resources to maximize ROI, in real time.

This makes a meaningful digital upfront a questionable proposition, since upfronts would necessarily limit this sort of real-time flexibility. Given this, digital upfronts will probably always be limited to integrated campaigns and media buys that involve inventory across multiple channels (digital and traditional).

That's not necessarily a bad thing for digital. Although television upfronts are sexy, digital players should be differentiating themselves from their television counterparts.

That not only means not trying to structure deals that minimize digital's real-time advantages, it means distancing digital from the word "upfront" altogether.

Patricio Robles

Published 11 May, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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