(UPDATED with WarnerMedia statement) Rapidly after NBC and CBS pulled the plug on their New York City Upfronts presentations, WarnerMedia has done the same.
“The health and safety of the advertising community, our employees and production partners is our absolute priority, so we will alter our plans for this year’s Upfront presentation,” said Gerhard Zeiler, Chief Revenue Officer, WarnerMedia and Kirk McDonald, Chief Business Officer, Xandr. “We have the technological and creative means to showcase our unified WarnerMedia/Xandr message through a unique video experience and will do just that on May 13.”
This comes as Broadway begins to shut down and Gov. Andrew Cuomo today banned all gatherings of more than 500 people in the Empire State. It also follows on the heels on the two broadcast networks downsizing themselves, so to speak.
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“We’ll miss Carnegie Hall and our agency dinners this year, but the health and safety of our clients and the ViacomCBS team comes first,” said Jo Ann Ross, President and Chief Advertising Revenue Officer, ViacomCBS Domestic Advertising Sales today. “CBS has a very good story to tell, and this year we need a unique way to tell it,” added the network’s Entertainment boss Kelly Kahl as the company shifts from its usual Carnegie Hall shindig to a video Upfront special that will be posted to digital platforms on May 13.
“We’re confident that this alternate format for this year can deliver what we’ve come to expect from a CBS Upfront – entertainment, stars, strategy and the first look at our new primetime series,” Kahl sought to assure advertisers.
Facing up to scientific reality and the bottom line, Comcast-owned NBCUniversal made a similar call almost simultaneously with their broadcast rival.
“At this moment in time, we can embrace a new future that puts our audiences and our partners first,” declared Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s Chairman of Advertising & Partnerships Thursday too. “This year’s Upfront Presentation will ensure everyone’s safety, while allowing us to give fans and marketers a preview of the upcoming season,” Yaccarino noted, on what is also close to the scheduled time frame for the July 15 launch of the corporation’s Peacock streamer.
Right now, Fox and the Disney-owned ABC still have their high wattage NYC gatherings in front of deep pocket advertisers on the calendar … but clearly discussions are being had in those boardrooms right now, if you know what I mean?
The broadcast Upfronts are a key forum for networks to showcase their upcoming fall schedules, and the strength of their lineup and their executive team to hundreds of advertising executives. It kicks off the upfront season where broadcasters sell most of their ad inventory. The tradition has been ongoing since the 1960s and became known for bell-and-whistles performance, talent and lavish parties after.
As broadcast ratings declined the demise of the Upfront was often predicted but they’ve remained a popular way to focus attention on new and returning programming and increasingly varied ways for advertisers to work across platforms. The industry is in uncharted waters with the events canceled and it remains to be seen how networks will work with advertisers and agencies on the process this year.
In an industry that is closing down by the minute, the fact that it has taken until today for the broadcasters to publicly make this move is the biggest surprise in this scenario.
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic and the Empire State itself is already under a state of emergency because of the ever expanding COVID-19.
We will update with more notices as they occur – stay tuned.
Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report
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