Disney Sets Single Upfront for ABC, ESPN, FX and Nat Geo

Disney plans to sell commercial inventory for the TV assets it recently acquired as part of its mammoth deal with the former 21st Century Fox alongside its ABC, ESPN and Freeform, giving its top ad-sales executive additional responsibility as well as influence on Madison Avenue.

Rita Ferro, Disney’s president of advertising sales, will sell ads for the FX Networks and National Geographic Networks, as well as ABC, ESPN and Freeform, the company said Thursday. The company has planned a new “combined” presentation to pitch Madison Avenue on all the networks, marking a turn for the media giant. In years past, the various Disney TV operations would hold separate meetings for ABC and ESPN. Disney in March closed its approximately $71 billion deal for the bulk of the former 21st Century Fox.

Disney’s presentation will take place May 14 and is part of the industry’s annual “upfront” sales season. when U.S. media companies try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory in advance of the next big programming cycle. Disney continues to hold separate meetings for its kids-focused cable networks like Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD. Two of those networks sell only limited sponsorship opportunities.

“We have a lot of announcements to make. We are holding a pretty good hand, and I am very excited to represent the cross-section of brands and audiences” that Disney can offer, said Ferro, in an interview Thursday. Ferro reports to Kevin Mayer, chairman of the company’s direct-to-consumer and international unit.

Disney expects to present “the best of the best” from its various outlets, Ferro says, including ABC News, and intends to keep the presentation to under 90 minutes. She says Disney made a development presentation to clients in Chicago recently – the first since Disney completed its recent acquisition – and was able to incorporate elements from some of the new properties. Disney intends to highlight elements such as advertising data and technology, its global reach and its ability to help advertisers develop so-called “branded content” that has the look and feel of specific programming, she says. The presentation could emphasize “one stop shopping across all of the Walt Disney Company,” she says.

With audiences splintering around a dizzying array of new video technologies, more advertisers are eager to talk about buying commercials across a broader portfolio of properties. NBCUniversal has for several years pitched Madison Avenue on buying broader packages of advertising across its broadcast, cable and digital operations. Disney in September said it would combine ad-sales operations for ABC and ESPN – long operated separately – under Ferro, who has risen up the ranks from handling ad outreach for the company’s kids’ networks.

The Fox acquisition will give Disney added heft in two content areas that have not been part of its core. The company has long helped advertisers reach broad female, male and kid demographics, but the former Fox holdings give the company new leverage. FX’s premium storytelling rivals that of  places like HBO, Showtime and AMC, and Nat Geo’s schedule can vie with offerings from Discovery.

Jimmy Kimmel and Kenny Mayne – who have long provided humorous segments during past ABC and ESPN sessions, respectively, are expected to appear this year, says Ferro.

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