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Scatter Market

How Media Buyers Can Navigate This Pricey Scatter Market

August 1st, 2016   ||    by Todd Wasserman

After a tepid 2014–2015 upfront season, the market came roaring back this year. For instance, in the case of CBS, the network pulled in 3–5 percent more revenue than the previous season, according to AdvertisingAge. Before the upfronts, scatter prices rose as much as 30 percent. With media buyers contending with a relatively pricey market this year, a more carefully considered buying process will become necessary.

Why the Market Is Up

TV executives have been predicting a robust scatter market since late last year. CBS CEO Les Moonves told The Wall Street Journal that he believed that the upfronts were down last year because of agency reviews, which complicated the process and prompted marketers to question which platform to advertise on. Moonves said that as that situation resolved itself in the fall, advertisers were quick to seize on the scatter market.

Another less flattering theory is that ratings last fall didn’t hit promised goals, forcing networks to provide makegoods of other TV time that led to an overall scarcity that fueled scatter market prices, reports WSJ.

Scatter—the 20 percent or so of TV time left over after the upfronts—can sometimes be seen as higher priced and less desirable than upfront time. One reason is that, unlike upfront buys, scatter buys don’t necessarily employ demographic targeting.

Best Practices for Scatter

Many media buyers choose to purchase scatter due to the clear advantages. One is the fact that the buys take place fairly close to air time. That means that it’s easier to get a read on a particular show’s popularity or ratings. For instance, TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles and Major Crimes are summer hits so far, according to the Hollywood Reporter, and are known to skew to an older audience, elements that could help inform a buy.

Media buyers also have the option of purchasing a local buy rather than a national one. In some cases, that may be a better bet, particularly if the client doesn’t have a comprehensive national footprint. A 2012 study by the Television Bureau of Advertising found that it was cheaper to buy local spots in all 210 DMAs than it was to place one national buy, at least across three of the four primary dayparts, excluding prime time, Adweek reported.

The other advantage of scatter is that it reflects the latest conditions. While an upfront buy is placed months ahead, a scatter buy can benefit when a given show becomes a hit (which reduces the chance of makegoods, making scatter cheaper) or if an advertiser cuts its budget, canceling some buys.

Placing such buys requires some finessing, especially this year. This is good news for media buyers looking to hone their negotiating skills. It’s also looking like a good year for broadcasters, though fall is often full of surprises. With a presidential election wrapping up, that will be doubly true this year.

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