Network Upfront 2019: Channels changing

Network Upfront presentations used to be all about Broadcast TV and their Fall programming . However, with the evolution of media, the network upfront focus has changed. As old and new media collide, executives find themselves promoting the traditional benefits of linear broadcast and cable TV, while also promoting their new streaming capabilities.

 Streaming Services Available

The biggest changes came from NBCU, Disney and WarnerMedia.  These three companies are launching their own direct-to-consumer streaming services over the next year. Disney turned what had been the ABC upfront into a two-hour-plus Disney Upfront Experience. Disney and NBCU’s Upfront diminished the importance of individual networks because of their focus on the new media. WarnerMedia lumped TNT, TBS and TruTV together while reflecting the fact that they’re all under one oversight but blurring the distinctions among them.

Many of the media giants also spent time emphasizing programming that is no longer on the air but still attract the largest audiences on streaming services. Disney featured images of classic series like “Lost” in its sizzle reel, while NBCU emphasized that “The Office” is No. 1 on Netflix. CBS took more time than usual to promote its CBS All Access service. At NBCU’s upfront, ad sales and client partnership chairman Linda Yaccarino teased Comcast’s plans for its advertising-supported streamer. And WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey began by also talking up its still-unnamed service, including a newly planned ad-supported component.

Engagement

In order to get the attention of the advertisers in the room, all delivered huge “engagement” numbers. They combined engagement across all of their networks. Disney sales boss Rita Ferro said consumers spend over 45 billion hours with their stories across their brands.  She also said that the company connects with 275 million people monthly across all screens. WarnerMedia’s Kevin Reilly said TBS, TNT, Adult Swim and TruTV “generate 1.3 billion hours of engagement and reach 239 million unique viewers each month.”

Network Upfront local impact

For the first time in memory, (2) major local affiliates in Chicago did not have a local upfront due to the focus no longer being on linear television. Both ABC-7 and NBC-5 in Chicago cancelled their annual Upfront presentation. These networks and others take the satellite feed from New York and have their own local network upfront presentations. According to a source, ABC-7 plans to have a presentation prior to the Fall that will be focused primarily on their linear TV programming.

Once again, streaming had overshadowed an event meant for celebrating the traditional linear networks.