To panel of media buyers, digital is wide-open space

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NEW YORK -- Advertisers and media agencies are starting to get their arms around the digital space but said they're still not sure what to make of it all.

That was one of the messages of a panel of top media buyers Wednesday morning, sponsored by the International Radio-Television Society and held at the Waldorf-Astoria in midtown Manhattan.

It's no secret that new-media opportunities -- from the smaller screens of the video iPod and cell phones to the full-episode streaming that's being done by the major broadcast networks -- are on the minds of executives more and more these days. But they're all still in the nascent stage, the panel members said. Starcom CEO John Muszynski said that the new-media opportunities are being tested to see if advertisers get enough value and whether they are "worth the premium we're paying."

It's not just about the eyeballs, Muszynski and others on the panel said. It's got to be filtered through the lens of the current industry buzzword: "engagement." Magna Global CEO Bill Cella agreed, saying ads on these platforms have to address advertisers' needs and get closer to engagement.

"It's almost about direct response," said Cella, who pointed out that the traditionally derided form of the media business has renewed strength with the rise of new media and other interactive platforms.

"The new ROI is ROA: return on attention," said Anita Newton, vp marketing at Kansas City, Mo.-based Sprint.

And while Clear Channel's "blink" and other seconds-long advertising is getting a lot of attention in the industry, no one's really sure how much advertising is appropriate in the digital space. Ph.D. CEO Steve Grubbs said that the traditional 30-second spot isn't appropriate for new media.

The media agencies agreed that the new-media opportunities were diminishing the impact of the upfront, the process by which TV media has been bought and sold for decades.

"A lot of opportunities are not available in just May or June," Starcom's Muszynski said. "You can't solve all the advertisers' problems at 3 o'clock in the morning with pizza."

Ph.D.'s Grubbs said that the upfront is less impactful than it's been but said that if the second- and third-quarter scatter pricing increases to 20%-30% above upfront levels, then more advertisers might participate in the upfront.

Mindshare local-broadcast president Kathy Crawford said that radio has arrived at a crossroads in its history, though she doesn't think it's going to die. But she said that the younger demographic's love affair with the iPod means that radio is going to have to change.
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