This story was first published in the May 3rd issue of Billboard.
The upfront season — when media companies secure some $20 billion in early advertising buys with TV, cable and radio networks and online content companies — is underway, and increasingly, music-industry giants Live Nation, Clear Channel and Vice are gunning for a slice of that ad-dollar pie.
Online music-video outlets such as Vevo and YouTube took a seat at the table several years ago by joining the Digital Content NewFronts, alongside such major digital players as Microsoft and Yahoo. Live Nation is expected to be part of a surprise upfront presentation with a to-be-announced partner early next week, while Google and YouTube will bring their “Brandcast” presentation to the Theater at Madison Square Garden on April 30. Vice, a producer of music-themed programming like last fall’s YouTube Music Awards and EDM vertical Thump, will hold its first annual presentation at New York’s Landmark Sunshine on Friday May 2. And Vevo will unveil an original programming slate at its May 5 presentation that will pair artists with brands.
“What’s exciting about these big music shows for us and our clients is that there are ways to create integrated activation elements, IP rights, VIP events and consumer promotions,” says Morgan Buksbaum, VP of WPP’s Group M Entertainment and Sports Partnerships (ESP) unit, who develops programs for clients like Pennzoil and Harman International. “The top 30 most-viewed YouTube videos of all time are music related, and Vevo is helping drive some of the biggest online video views on YouTube. These numbers make brands pay closer attention.”
Clear Channel, for example, is sitting out this year's NewFronts in favor of private presentations to more than 25 of the top chief marketing officers at its new offices in midtown Manhattan with top executives like Bob Pittman, John Sykes and even host Ryan Seacrest, who's been known to pipe in remotely from Los Angeles. “The splashy events don’t allow you to build custom programs for a client like Taco Bell, which has a new breakfast program,” says Greg Glenday, president of Clear Channel Connections, the company’s sponsorship division.
Though the upfront remains a priority for brands looking to lock in category-exclusive sponsorships for major awards, events and entertainment platforms, it doesn’t offer the flexibility needed for some brands to properly activate in music. “Sponsoring an album launch is not something you can do more than three months ahead typically,” says Alan Cohen, co-founder of Omnicom agency Giant Spoon. “TV was always sold based on a fixed amount of commercial time and scarcity. Music is harder to put into a bucket – you either want to be part of a Lady Gaga experience, or you don’t.”
Olivier Gers, global president of Publicis’ branded-entertainment unit Liquid Thread, has had years of experience selling music-themed upfront packages to brands from his former days as the head of sponsorships for “American Idol” producers Fremantle Media. He sees the decline of the mass-reach TV vehicles as an opportunity for the music industry to present a different kind of scale for brands seeking more specific targets. ‘“Idol’ is on its last leg, as much as it pains me to say that, ‘X Factor’ is off, ‘The Voice’ is still around for now. But what you’re seeing now are clients who want to create 360 platforms solely around music. These take a long time to plan, it’s a year-plus out, involving talent, music rights, videos on Vevo and YouTube. But when properly managed and orchestrated, it can turn into something really powerful and extraordinary.”
According to analytics firm IEG’s 2014 Music Sponsorship report, advertisers’ live-music spends are expected to reach $1.3 billion this year, up 4.4 percent over 2013. Pepsi, Citibank and Samsung have made music a year-round part of their marketing strategies, and a wider swath of brands are allocating TV dollars to platforms like Vevo, which hit a monthly average of nearly 6 billion views in December, as TV ratings erode. That’s why Vevo will be pitching “360”-style packages at its upfront that incorporate PCs, mobile web, apps, tablets and connected TVs. Vevo already gets 50 percent of its business from multiplatform ad buys. “We spent the last nine months converting from channel-specific buys to this multiplatform approach,” says Vevo chief revenue officer Jonathan Carson, “and advertisers have embraced it beyond our expectations.”