Harry Jessell: Affiliates with whom I spoke were clearly ticked off by last week’s show, with many preempting it. “Bone-headed,” said one. Compounding the insult of being asked to air an infomercial for a host of competitors was their feeling that that they had paid through their reverse comp for actual entertainment programming on Thursday night.
From being name-checked in the show to inserting Easter eggs for marketers.
Unable to put on its upfront pitch at Radio City in May, NBCUniversal put its star-studded upfront message on television. But first, NBCUniversal previewed its primetime upfront pitch reuniting the cast of 30 Rock for a one-hour special episode as the finale of a Creative Summit for ad clients and media buyers Thursday afternoon. The summit talked about the importance of creativity in solving business problems and the ways NBCU can work with marketers.
Turkish telenovela adaptations, soccer programming, music and reality shows and amped-up news coverage are among the programming highlights of Univision’s 2020-21 content slate. The Spanish-language media giant hosted a virtual upfront presentation on Tuesday for media buyers. The event is likely to be the last public outing for Univision before it is sold to a consortium of new investors in the fall, led by former Viacom CFO Wade Davis’ Forgelight Media.
NBCUniversal’s upfront will be hosted by Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy and Tracy Jordan and be shown to the masses as a TV special, rather than an exclusive presentation for advertisers. NBC will air a TV special on July 16 that will bring back the cast of 30 Rock to tout NBCU’s 2020-21 programming. The hour-long, commercial-free event will premiere on NBC, and get a reboardcast the following day across USA Network, Bravo, E!, Oxygen, SYFY, and CNBC as well as being available to stream on Peacock. Along with 30 Rock castmembers, the special will feature guest appearances from talent from across NBCU’s portfolio.
With the coronavirus pandemic spurring chaos across the U.S. economy, some of the TV networks’ best-known ambassadors to the advertising industry were called upon in recent weeks to speak with members of the Association of National Advertisers, an influential industry group representing 1600 companies that spend more than $400 billion each year on advertising and marketing. The big question: Can you help us?
The nation’s big media companies are trying to avoid great pressure from advertisers and media buyers to take severe cutbacks in ad rates in early talks as part of the industry’s annual upfront ad market, according to three executives familiar with discussions. Their pushback suggests owners of networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox are betting that a return of favorite TV elements like sports will draw new interest from sponsors and generate more demand for TV commercials — and potentially help them avoid capitulating to the most onerous demands.
Disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, advertisers canceled 15% to 25% of the third-quarter advertising time bought during the 2019-20 upfront, according to sources familiar with the situation. Ad sales executives said the cancellations were “not as bad as expected,” after the networks saw ad revenue declines of from 30% to 59% in April, according to Standard Media Index.
The myriad complications and stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic have created a television upfront season unlike any in memory. In a typical spring and early summer, deals close for about one-third of the annual $70 billion in total TV ads. This year, most bets are off, at least for the near term. Ad spending is in free fall across the TV landscape and the U.S. economy continues to struggle, with Great Depression levels of unemployment and sharp declines in consumer spending.
The 2020 pilot season has remained unfinished business, with pilots ordered but not filmed. And yet, under most extraordinary circumstances, amid a global pandemic that has upended the lives of millions and thrown most industries, including Hollywood, into chaos, it was almost business as usual in the month of May, with three of the five broadcast networks picking up new series out of the pool of pilot orders.
Every spring CBS parades its stars and executives across the Carnegie Hall stage to try to persuade advertisers to buy commercial time during an event filled with scripted banter and sizzle reels. This year, ad buyers working from home clicked on a link that led them to a cartoon of Stephen Colbert interviewing a dog.
In the first part of its virtual upfront presentation Monday, the media company employed its on-air talent to make the point that the merger that combined Viacom with CBS late last year made the company “simply stronger” together.
Ad spending during this year’s upfront network TV marketplace will decline 33% from last year’s, if one occurs at all. Those are the findings of the most recent wave of COVID-19 pandemic tracking studies conducted by Advertiser Perceptions.
In a virtual presentation to media agencies and marketing executives on Tuesday, Steve Mandela, president of advertising sales and marketing for Univision Communications, said: “Unlike English-language networks, our primetime schedule for the next year is set with first-run episodes every hour of primetime.”
Univision will be presenting its 2020-21 programming plans with advertisers and agencies virtually on June 16, the broadcaster said, the latest to announce a day and time for a upfront that replaces a traditional live event originally scheduled in May but sidetracked by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Comcast-backed company on Monday reiterated its interest in having advertisers give consideration to a series of new initiatives it has unveiled in recent months that call for buying ads across different video venues and reducing the number of commercials that appear within any individual piece of content. “We are changing our business so we can make your business stronger,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and partnerships for NBCUniversal, during a streaming-video presentation held for media buyers, analysts and press.
NBCUniversal unveiled plans for a new advertising venture with its Comcast sibling Sky, a “creativity summit” over the summer and other initiatives during a “state of the marketplace conversation” on Monday. The online event was held on the day the company had planned to host its annual upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall.
Amid a coronavirus pandemic, which ground filming to a halt, decimated broadcast pilot season and canceled the traditional May upfronts, Fox unveiled its fall 2020 schedule at the exact time it would’ve done it without the pandemic. It includes the network TV debut of Spectrum Originals’ L.A.’s Finest starring Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba, which the network has acquired from Sony Pictures TV.
In-person glitzy events were scrapped because of the pandemic, but that won’t stop the sales pitches.
A week before ViacomCBS would normally hold its annual upfronts bash at New York’s Carnegie Hall—which, like every other in-person upfronts week event, was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic—the company has set a new strategy for its first upfront since CBS and Viacom merged last December. Instead of its May 13 event, the company will hold a pair of virtual presentations over two days—on Monday, May 18 and Tuesday, May 19—said Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer of domestic ad sales at ViacomCBS, to clients and agencies in a letter this afternoon.
The Spanish-language broadcaster will update buyers on the state of its business and unveil its programming strategy for the remainder of 2020.
Adjusting along with the rest of the industry to COVID-19, NBCUniversal has scheduled a virtual event for advertisers on May 11, the same date it had previously planned for its annual upfront. Dubbed a “One Industry Update,” the refashioned event will be a videoconference featuring executive comments as well as a “state of the marketplace conversation” with a Q&A period. The company officially canceled its upfront in mid-March, as TV networks regrouped as soon as it became clear that the pandemic had arrived.
Many advertisers are pressing for negotiations to take place in September and October, according to eight executives with knowledge of recent discussions, when the networks will have a better idea of their new programming lineups and marketers may have enough knowledge of how their businesses are faring to discuss the purchase of ad time in 2021. If that were to happen, it would undermine the flow of ad dollars to the networks in the fourth quarter, typically a period of robust spending around holiday shopping and NFL football games. Other sponsors are ready to buy ad time now.
AMC Networks has opened up an online destination for its advertising business, hoping to connect with clients now that face-to-face meetings are off-limits for the time being.
One month ago, the annual May upfronts week was upended as all the major media companies canceled their presentations en masse and switched to virtual events amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The TV advertising tradition is now in the process of dissolving entirely this year, as most presenters have decided to delay their virtual events for several weeks, or rethink their plans entirely.
As buyers and media companies enact new strategies in the wake of COVID-19’s impact on the country and world, several are beginning to doubt whether upfront negotiations can be conducted in their usual late spring/summer timeframe.
Information about new ad products and strategies to reach audiences is key, but other traditions aren’t necessary.
Caution about the spread of the coronavirus has led Discovery to cancel its May upfront presentation. Discovery said it has prepared an “alternative digital experience” to showcast the company’s portfolio of networks, programming and advanced advertising products to media buyers and clients.
“In light of recent developments and the current guidelines being set by health officials regarding COVID-19, The CW Network has decided to forego its traditional live upfront presentation scheduled for Thursday May 14 at City Center Theater in New York, as we join the community’s efforts to ensure that everyone’s health and safety is our top priority,” the network said in a statement Thursday.
Both CBS and NBCUniversal have canceled their upfront presentations that were scheduled in New York for mid-May. Both companies will present their upcoming slates digitally.
The IAB is now offering streaming options to members who are abandoning upcoming live presentations as virtual upfronts gain momentum. The group says the option will “let consumer brands, advertising agencies, and publishers design their individual events and meetings to fit their business needs, and facilitate decision-making and buying.” The IAB’s Digital Content NewFront is currently scheduled for April 27-May 6 in New York.
A+E Networks has become the latest company in the TV business to alter upfront presentation plans because of concerns over coronavirus. Instead of having media buyers attend a live event on March 25, A+E said it will have a series of virtual presentations that will be conducted on an agency–by agency basis.
Comcast FreeWheel’s “NowFront” upfront event had been scheduled for March 12 in New York. A FreeWheel representative said it hopes to reschedule the event.
Fox News is the first media company to cancel its upfront in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak “in a precautionary effort to keep our employees, client and agency partners safe.” It had planned to host its annual pitch to the ad community on March 24.