"Most of the times, the relationships with partners like Google have been very much campaign-by-campaign focused, though some have done special, forward-looking buys individually," Trivedi said. "But that doesn't allow us to have the kind of broad conversations that we do when we sit across the table from a media outlet. Setting up a structure for planning far in advance gives us better line of sight and allows them to bring other things to table that might not happen in a shorter time frame."
Google has long had a video advertising relationship with MediaVest and Publicis, particularly around VivaKi's video ad project, The Pool. While no other upfront deals are said to be in the works, Google is talking with its other agency partners about a second formal commitment of spending over the course of the next year.
Importantly, this arrangement doesn't involve any commitments around using Google's programmatic tools and so should not be confused with last month's AOL Programmatic Upfront.
"I think programmatic is becoming part of every conversation we have with clients and partners," Trivedi said, noting that this Google upfront is available to all its accounts. "So even though this effort is focused on media and not technology, programmatic underlies everything we're thinking about."
The AOL event promoted the portal's technology solutions from video marketplace Adap.tv and also involved commitments from Publicis, Interpublic, Omnicom and Havas -- WPP is the sole nonparticipant among the ad holding companies -- to place AOL's reserved, guaranteed inventory available through its automated platforms.
The term "upfront" has been thrown around a lot lately in the online ad world, particularly since the growth of the digital NewFronts, an effort at countering the traditional TV upfront season during the spring that was started by Publicis' Digitas five years ago.
Google also held a NewFront event this past year, though there wasn't much talk, publicly at least, about spending commitments. Still, having a clearer showcase gave the focus on buying online media with more defined setting gave the process more purpose, Trivedi said.
"We were always talking with our clients about taking a 'video-neutral' approach, whether it's TV or online, and the NewFronts provided an industry showcase to have those conversations on a larger scale," Trivedi said. "So we were already planning on aligning offline and online campaigns more closely, but the NewFronts propelled that activity and has helped legitimize the content of the AOLs, Yahoos and Googles of the world."
Some have fretted that simply slapping the name "upfront" on pledges of future spending may muddle the term. Nevertheless, as the online ad industry seeks to attract more lucrative "brand campaign dollars," as opposed to performance-based real-time spending, the judgment remains that a familiar term makes it easier for marketers to grasp.
The upfront for TV wasn't very defined in 1950s,when the first attempts at formalizing the process of ad sales first took shape. Back then broadcast advertising and programming was in flux just as much online advertising is today. It wasn't until 1962, when ABC decided to schedule all its new programming during a single week in September, that the idea of paying in the spring for ad inventory that would run in the fall began to take shape.
But online advertising and publishing are all about immediacy and audience fragmentation. Perhaps the main argument against the notion of any kind of online upfront is that the Web simply lacks the scarcity that has brought TV buyers and sellers to the negotiating table every spring.
But that's not likely to stop digital players, especially ones that already command a great deal of display advertising, from trying to shape the buying and selling process to their advantage.