By Gina Pomponi, Bluewater President & COO
There is one pressing question every client asks: what’s going to happen with rates and inventory?” It’s an honest ask, and in a normal year, I can confidently answer this question relying on my years of experience and historical seasonality. However, 2020 has been anything but normal. In the past 30 years, we have endured some horrible times including 9/11 and the Great Recession, but nothing that has impacted the media world quite as uniquely as COVID.
Early in the second quarter of the year we experienced an unprecedented “Media Utopia” ripe with abundant media opportunities, low rates, and strong viewership. When COVID hit in late March 2020, many major advertisers cautiously cut back or completely pulled off air, a common reaction in times like these. In addition, outbreaks brought professional sporting events to a screeching halt. These two factors caused station inventory to blow wide open, and in turn rates dropped, simple supply and demand economics. With all Americans stuck in their homes under quarantine, TV viewership hit an all-time high. Comscore reported a 33% increase in TV viewership in the week of March 18, 2020, versus the same week in 2019. Although the COVID pandemic has been a horrible plague to our nation and the world, DRTV agencies like us at Bluewater, were making lemonade out of lemons.
Fast forward to mid-third quarter. Sports took a “bubble” approach and started back up, general advertisers were back on the air, and we were returning to a “normal” 3Q media environment. With 4Q looming just around the quarter, the inevitable question came up again from our clients, “what will rates and inventory be like in 4Q20?” A very tough question to answer this year for a few reasons.
First, general advertisers had extra budget to spend in 2020 since they had pulled back earlier in the year. Secondly, 2020 is a presidential political year and although door to door campaigning and rallies have been cut back, advertising is at an all-time high. According to an NBC report, political spending this year is projected to be $6.7 billion, with spending to date of $2.19 billion which is $1 billion more than was spent at this time in 2016 and 2018. Lastly, the Medicare annual open enrollment period is in full swing until December 7th, bringing more demand on TV airtime and potentially a significantly higher spend than last year from a wide variety of carriers and quoting services.
With all these new variables, developing the optimum strategy for fourth quarter requires the right balance of an experienced agency with the right amount of intuition and “media gut.” The smart direct marketer has taken a proactive stance in planning their 4Q media utilizing a blend of media type, creative lengths and buying disciplines. The best strategy is blending non-preemptible rates on key networks/dayparts with traditional DR buys to obtain the airtime needed and still achieve profitable KPIs during this season.
Perhaps the most trying time in TV media fourth quarter is December when retailers hit the airways in a huge way. I am projecting a much different December this year. With Amazon moving Prime Day to October 15, I believe this will spur on consumers to start their holiday shopping early this year. Between that and the supply chain issues experienced in the US this year, holiday shopping dollars are projected to shift to earlier in the quarter and be significantly lower in December. Retailers will still be advertising; however, I project the bulk of those dollars will shift from Linear TV to CTV/OTT and digital channels. This will be great news for those patient marketers that have planned wisely and held back dollars for December’s scatter market and a perfect example of why you need a converged agency like Bluewater that can be nimble and easily shift the budget levers from one media bucket to another without missing a beat.
By the end of next month, I’m sure I’ll be answering the question, “what can we expect for 2021?”