Disney has long worked to entertain kids and families. Now it’s planning a new kind of show for Madison Avenue.
Every year, as part of TV’s annual “upfront” ad-sales showcase, the company takes to Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall and tries to woo media buyers and marketers with a show about its next programming season. ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel is typically involved. With the spread of coronavirus, however, all the major U.S. media companies have canceled the glitzy showcases in favor of streaming-video presentations.
Where rivals are planning a day or two of showcases that everyone in the business can see at once, Disney plans several days of presentations during the weeks of May 25 and June 1, tailored to each of of the industry’s biggest media-buying shops, says Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising Sales, in an interview. “These are a little more customized and intimate,” she says, but will retain some of the hallmarks of a bigger show, such as celebrities who will give shout-outs to agency executives in each audience. Participants will be able to access “bonus content” they can examine on-demand after the presentation is complete.
Disney is offering the latest twist on a scaled-back version of what is usually TV’s biggest week of promotion each year. Every May, the big U.S. media companies book venues like Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall in an effort to woo billions of dollars from advertisers that run the gamut from Apple to Zyrtec. The pandemic is wreaking havoc with traditional Madison Avenue systems: some advertisers have clawed back or delayed significant spending and production of scripted programming is virtually shut down.
Disney will emphasize its recent ability to pivot to current conditions – while helping advertisers fit in. In recent weeks, its TV networks have created big-audience specials like a “Disney Family Singalong” that was sponsored by State Farm and T-Mobile, or ESPN’s “Last Dance” documentary that features advertising support from Facebook, State Farm and Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, all of which are helping to create extra content related to the ten-part series. One State Farm ad that debuted featured old footage of ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne to humorous effect was created by ESPN’s in-house creative unit and generated chatter. A joint ESPN-ABC telecast of the NFL Draft – using feeds from dozens of participants’ homes – sold out all its commercial time to advertisers including Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Bud Light and Verizon.
“We are going to show how Disney drives culture and how Disney drives connections,” says Ferro. “And we are going to show how we have innovated.”
There may be some talk about the company’s range of TV networks, but announcements about new programming is likely to come from individual operations in weeks and months to come.
Like its rivals, Disney is facing headwinds. Travel advertisers, movie studios, retailers and auto companies have all pared spending in recent weeks. Some clients are pressing to push their “upfront” buys into the fall – for inventory in 2021. NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and Univision are also planning virtual showcases to discuss the market with advertisers as well as potential plans.
Ferro says Disney will meet with clients whenever they want, whether that time is now, several weeks in the future, or even next year. “We are in the trenches with them,” says Ferro, “and we will continue to be with them going forward.”