Discovery Will Crash TV’s Upfront Week in 2020

Discovery wants to tout “Shark Week” during TV’s Upfront Week.

Discovery will elbow its way next year into TV’s annual May showcase, the mid-month series of presentations the nation’s big media companies give to Madison Avenue in an effort to woo billions of ad dollars for their coming programming schedules.  Discovery is betting that its recent merger with Scripps gives it enough heft and broad reach to vie for attention with the usual gang of TV titans: NBCUniversal, Fox, Walt Disney, WarnerMedia, CBS and the CW.

“We are going to be the new kid on the block. There’s going to be some curiosity about what we do,” says Jon Steinlauf, Discovery’s chief U.S. sales officer, in an interview. “It’s too tempting to pass up, an opportunity to get all this reach – probably 1,000 people come to New York that week and have their decision makers there, whether they be from TV, clients or agencies.

Discovery in the past has held meetings with agencies and select clients in various cities, and then – in some years – held a big New York presentation to tout its next lineup of shows. Before buying Scripps in 2018 for nearly $12 billion, Discovery had backed away from a big New York show. Now, with Scripps under its umbrella, the company operates a wider array of cable networks that feature predominantly unscripted programming, ranging from TLC and Oprah Winfrey Network to Food Network and HGTV.

Other cable players have already moved to the big week, once largely the domain of the big broadcasters. WarnerMedia, then known as Turner, and ESPN stepped into the fray last decade, a bold bid to fight for the same dollars their broadcast rivals captured.

Discovery may have seen a clear opening. It will present next year on the morning of May 12, 2020 at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall – a time slot previously held by ESPN. The sports-media giant this year abandoned its Tuesday A.M. roost as parent company Disney opted for a new presentation that encompasses all its TV brands.

Discovery notched nearly $3.75 billion in advertising in 2018, a 3% increase from the year-earlier period on a pro-forma basis.

In addition to the Scripps networks, Discovery has been building a portfolio of sports rights, including agreements that allow it to broadcast the Olympics and the PGA’s overseas events in Europe. The company intends to relaunch one of its cable networks under the aegis of home-improvement gurus Chip and Joanna Gaines. The company has also been offering a “Premiere” package that gives advertisers a presence in first-in-break slots during first-runs of some of the company’s most popular primetime shows.

Upfront Week vacancies surface rarely, and when they do, TV companies tend to pounce. AT&T this year filled ESPN’s Tuesday-morning slot with a presentation from Xandr, an ad-tech division that aims to help marketers place their commercials with greater precision in digital and linear venues.

NBC in 2008 decided to take a break from its annual upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall in favor of a multi-media showcase at 30 Rockefeller Center that touted the assets of the parent company, NBCUniversal. Fox swooped in and started a Monday-afternoon event that continues to this day.

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