Digital Content NewFronts 2017 will be held in New York City from Monday, May 1st through Friday, May 12th, and I’m going for pretty much the same reason that other people are finally flocking to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I want to see it before the Greatest Show on Earth comes to an end next month. I’m serious.

AOL, Digitas, Google/YouTube, Hulu, Microsoft Advertising, and Yahoo! created the first Digital Content NewFronts event back in February 2012 to “to shape a new and practical marketplace for connecting the wealth of native digital content with brand marketers and their media and marketing agencies.” In other words, they created a “new front” where media buyers who were already familiar with the TV upfronts could meet some online video content creators for the first time. So, this is one of those rare occasions when it would be appropriate to display a banner that reads “mission accomplished.”

NewFronts 2017: Programmatic Rules

Five years ago, eMarketer had just reported that U.S. online video ad spending had reached $2.16 billion in 2011. And the market research company said the total online ad spend – which included search and display advertising – was expected to grow 23% in 2012 to $39.5 billion in the U.S. This week, eMarketer reported that video ad spending reached $10.30 billion in 2016. Meanwhile, the market research company says US digital ad spending reached $72.09 billion in 2016, surpassing TV spending, which modestly grew to $71.29 billion. Now, a rising tide lifts all boats, right? Umm, not exactly.

In March 2017, Yahoo! canceled its presentation at the annual digital-video advertising pitchfest in New York City, but Twitter quickly grabbed its prime position in the 2017 Digital Content NewFronts lineup. Meanwhile, the event has grown from six presentations in 2012 to 35 presentations in 2017. And I plan to attend some – not all – of them. So, if you want to keep up with all the news coverage, then I recommend that you do what I do and read the stories in Adweek, which is the exclusive and official media partner for the NewFronts.

But, if I’m not there to report the news, then what are the strategic insights, critical data, tactical advice, and trends in the digital video marketing business that I hope to see and hear by attending some of the presentations in-person? Well, I have this theory. Actually, it’s more of a hypothesis, really. It hasn’t been inspired by anything that I’ve read lately, although it is inspired by reading “The Adventure of Silver Blaze,” one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s the one about the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. You know, that’s the story about the dog that didn’t bark when a race horse was removed from a stable. That was an important clue to solving the mystery.

Well, during all the brouhaha that was created when AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, and other big brands announced that they were boycotting YouTube, I noticed a curious incident. None of these big brands – and certainly none of their advertising agencies – fired even one lowly media buyer for running their TrueView in-stream ads on “hateful, offensive and derogatory content.” Everyone blamed YouTube. And this blame seemed well-placed when Google quickly introduced a number of “new tools for advertisers to more easily and consistently manage where their ads appear across YouTube and the web.”

So, what’s so curious about this incident? The fact that no one – and I mean no one – blamed even one lowly media buyer. That’s the dog that didn’t bark. Why aren’t media buyers even partially to blame for a number of cases where brands’ ads appeared on content that was not aligned with their values? Because maybe they aren’t responsible for buying that much media on YouTube anymore.

Now, a few of them are still buying from other media companies. Or, I wouldn’t be going to this year’s Digital Content NewFronts to see if I can find the one. But, I suspect that the vast majority of human media buyers who once decided where to place ads on YouTube may have already been replaced by programmatic buying.

Manual Media Buying: On the Way Out?

If this has actually happened, then nobody has really paid much attention to this trend in the digital video marketing business – just like most of us didn’t pay much attention to the assembly line workers who were slowly losing their jobs to automation or the coal miners who were steadily losing their jobs to mechanization or the retail workers in “zombie malls” who are increasingly losing their jobs to internet competitors.

Back in December, scientists and economic advisers to President Obama released a report on artificial intelligence that warned of threats to existing jobs and an exacerbation of the wage inequality between lower-skilled, less-educated workers and those with higher skills. Their optimistic scenario said 9% of jobs are at risk in the next decade or two. Their pessimistic scenario said that 47% of US jobs are at risk.

That’s why I suspect that even if some media buyers haven’t lost their jobs yet, they will soon. But, where’s my evidence? How can I prove that media buyers are an endangered species? Why should anyone believe that my deduction is correct? Well, let me answer my own questions in three parts.

First, we all remember Blockbuster, which achieved popularity in the 1980s, 1990s, and early-to-mid 2000s. At its peak in 2004, Blockbuster consisted of nearly 60,000 employees and over 8,000 stores. When it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010, all of us understand that Netflix and other video on demand services made video rental shops obsolete. So, why would we be shocked, shocked to find that programmatic buying has now made the traditional media buyer’s job obsolete?

Second, as far back as August 2014, Think with Google was publishing “Programmatic: A Brand Marketer’s Guide.” It said, among other things, “Soon, all brands will be confident in their ability to use programmatic buying to engage and move audiences when it matters most.” So, why should we be shocked, shocked to find that “soon” for Google back then means “2017” for the vast majority of the people planning to attend this year’s Digital Content NewFronts?

Where is Facebook & BuzzFeed?

Third, what do Facebook and BuzzFeed know that the rest of the presenters at the Digital Content NewFronts haven’t figured out yet? Facebook hasn’t ever presented at any of the events. And BuzzFeed, which did present at the 2014, 2015, and 2016 events, announced last month that it will not participate in this year’s presentations. So, why could we be shocked, shocked to find that they’ve figured out that they don’t need to schmooze human media buyers because software handles programmatic buying? Like I said, this is just a hypothesis. And there’s some critical data that prevents me from claiming that this is a full-blown theory.

Over the weekend, I went to Indeed, the world’s #1 job site. It claims, “If the job is online, you’ll find it on Indeed.” I searched for new “media buyer” jobs within 25 miles of New York, NY, and found 117 full-time openings. The salaries ranged from a minimum of $34,521 to a maximum of $88,175, with the average $55,171 per year. Then, I searched for new “programmatic” jobs in New York, NY, and found 369 full-time openings. The salaries ranged from $50,000 to $105,000, but there was no data on an average. So, there are still lots of media buyer jobs in the Big Apple, but there are even more – and better-paying – jobs for those with the new skills to manage programmatic buying software.

So, what does this mean to readers of Tubular Insights? Well, it means that you’ll need to wait until I’ve been to next month’s presentations at the Digital Content NewFronts and can report back on the event. I’m not worried that I’ll get scooped. Most of the reporters there will be focused on the presenters, but I’ll be looking around the room and talking with the other attendees.

I know that brand marketers will be there. They’ll want to hear what YouTube says about brand safety at its invitation-only event on Thursday, May 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. And they’ll also find out if there’s a YouTube alternative, although people have been searching for “YouTube alternative” since 2006, according to Google Trends. And if brand marketers attend some of these events, then I’m pretty sure that someone from their ad agencies will be there, too. Why? Because we can’t let the client learn things that the agency hasn’t already learned. But, it will probably the account manager, not a lowly media buyer.

Nevertheless, I’ll be looking to see if I can spot any media buyers at the events. And if you’re there, too, then it will be easy for you to spot me. I’ll be the 6’2” tall guy, who is bald and has a beard. And I’ll be wearing a bright red sweater with the “hanging sox” logo of the Boston Red Sox over the heart. Hey, you aren’t likely to see anyone else dressed like that within 25 miles of New York City. So, if you are a media buyer – even a lowly one – come on over and introduce yourself. I don’t want to get you fired. So, you can talk with me off the record. I’m just trying to find out if I’m barking up the wrong tree.

But, if it turns out that I’m right, then here’s what I promise to do. I’ll lobby my editor-in-chief on holding a free webinar for media buyers to explain what they need to know to manage programmatic buying software successfully. Hey, I literally wrote the book on YouTube and Video Marketing. And I teach this stuff at the Rutgers Business School over in New Jersey. But, I get it. Nobody reads books anymore and New Yorkers wouldn’t think of schlepping a whole hour on a New Jersey Transit train – I’m talking about one that doesn’t get stuck in the Hudson River Tunnel for 3 hours – just to take one of my classes in New Brunswick.

So, you can attend a free training webinar for an hour – from your office, apartment, or a Starbucks – and eliminate the whole train thing. How else would you benefit? Well, there’s 369 full-time openings within 25 miles of New York, NY, that paying better salaries than what you’re probably making right now.

So, what do you think? Yes, I’m a member of Red Sox Nation. But, we don’t need to talk about baseball. If my hypothesis is wrong, then I’ll be the first to admit it. Heck, I’ll even wear a Yankees sweater the next time that I speak in public and upload a selfie of me wearing it to Facebook and Pinterest. But, if I’m right and I can turn my hypothesis into a full-blown theory, then you’ll get a personal invitation from me to the first Tubular Insights webinar on programmatic buying. I’ll even save a seat for you in the front row. Now, what do you say?

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