While some other TV companies are trying to get advertisers to spend on the programs they may or may not have in the fall, Walt Disney hopes to interest sponsors in what it can do for them no matter what happens in the near future.
The company has in recent days been making presentations to advertisers and media buyers that not only talk about opportunities that may arrive should production and live sports resume in coming weeks, but also what Disney has been able to do for clients as the nation has been strangled by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Things are a little bit different now, and you have to show that,” says Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising Sales, in an interview. The presentations come as part of TV’s annual “upfront” ad-sales market, when TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the next programming year.
As part of that showcase, Disney is emphasizing the fact that Hulu is an integral part of its video portfolio. The company took control of Hulu in May of 2019, when co-owner Comcast agreed to cede oversight of its one-third stake in the popular video-streaming hub. Disney acquired another chunk of Hulu when it purchased the bulk of 21st Century Fox in 2018.
On October 1, Disney will release an advertising product it calls Disney Hulu XP, which will give advertisers a chance to place their commercials across both Hulu and Disney’s TV networks. “It is the first time we are uniting them,” says Ferro. The company plans to offer audience guarantees based on completed video views, she says. Disney also plans to provide clients a chance to buy so-called “programmatic” inventory, or advertising that his placed according to a predefined set of data, across Hulu and the networks.
There are other advanced advertising options being discussed. Disney has struck pacts with Samba TV that will help it measure the action spurred by specific commercials, such as foot traffic in stores, site visits or tune in. Disney has also joined a Nielsen beta program that tests addressable ad campaigns, or commercials that are sent to specific households based on data.
Like its rivals, Disney faces one of the toughest ad markets in recent memory. The pandemic has forced live sports off the field and spurred an end to production of comedies and dramas. TV networks have indicated they intend to bring sports back – and suggested they may be able to start a new programming season if they can get production started by August. Much of that, of course, remains to be seen.
The maneuvers show Disney with a firmer grasp on its broader portfolio, and eager to make Hulu a more active part of it. Media buyers felt the company last year had challenges when it came to selling a bigger array of TV networks, such as Nat Geo and FX, which it had only recently acquired.
While Disney featured a roundtable of its top programming executives discussing potential plans, Ferro also highlighted recent advertising tie-ins to programs that have been successful during the pandemic. ESPN brought 100 advertisers to its telecast of the NFL Draft, and 60 of them were first-timers. The company also created unique ads for ESPN’s showing of the documentary “The Last Dance,” a highly rated limited series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
“We are a company that is involved in travel, entertainment and retail. And we are also a media company,” says Ferro. “We knew what the impact was for our partners,” and understood the types of events they might want to sponsor during an uncertain time.
Ferro acknowledges this year’s upfront is shaping up to be challenging. “It’s definitely a buyers’ market. No one is questioning that,” she says. But the gradual return of sports – the NBA, NHL and NFL have all articulated some plans – is likely to be the catalyst that prods many advertisers to get back into the market more actively, she says.
Some advertisers “have to figure out what really was the impact of COVID-19. Now that their supply chain is back up, they have to figure out what their business looks like and they need more flexibility than in the past,” says Ferro, but “clients are starting to feel a little bit better. We are not out of it yet, but we have a new normal that we are starting to move to.”