At a time when many TV companies have appeared wary of talking to advertisers, ViacomCBS believes it will have plenty to discuss.
The newly merged company, which encompasses the CBS broadcast network as well as cable outlets like Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV, plans to hold two different streaming-video presentations for advertisers – one for its cable and streaming operations on Monday, May 18 and one for the CBS network as well as the subscription-video “CBS All Access” hub on Tuesday, May 19. The details were unveiled in a letter to advertisers and media-buying executives sent by Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer at ViacomCBS.
“I planned to be – and frankly, I’d rather be – writing to you this time of year to invite you to one of our intimate upfront dinners or our annual celebration at Carnegie Hall,” said Ross, making a reference to CBS annual tradition of unveiling its new programming at that location each May. “Clearly, the current climate is different, but as they say at Carnegie, the show must go on!”
ViacomCBS is one of several major U.S. media companies grappling with how to talk to Madison Avenue at a time when the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has thrown many plans into disarray and fogged many corporations’ business outlooks. Many advertisers – particularly those in the travel, movie and automotive categories – are trying to navigate a climate in which consumers shelter at home and in which vast amounts of consumer spending has been curtailed. While some TV sponsors have indicated they are ready to make advertising commitments now, as one would do in a typical market, others are pressing for a sales process to take place in September or October, when they can make purchases for 2021.
The company may have more to say about programming than previously expected. She said ViacomCBS plans to “unveil the fall programming lineup of the CBS Television Network” on May 19 along with original CBS All Access programs, and offerings from CBS News and CBS Sports, including its scheduled 2021 broadcast of Super Bowl LV. Much TV production has shut down as state governments have called for a halt to large business and social gatherings.
The former Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. merged late last year, and has been under Wall Street scrutiny since that time as investors consider the performance of some of the Viacom cable outlets. The merger has brought layoffs to venues including Comedy Central, and there have been indications the company is rethinking the organization of the unit that houses many of its cable networks. Advertisers are likely to be curious what sorts of cross-venue ad packages might be available and whether CBS will be able to make use of several audience-targeting technologies that have become a larger part of Viacom’s offering in recent years.
As the scope of the coronavirus spread became better understood in March, all the major media companies scuttled their regular upfront presentations. Those glitzy showcases usually take place in mid-May and bring together advertisers, talent agencies, programming executives and actors in a week stuffed with celebrations and spark weeks of negotiations over billions of dollars in advertising. ViacomCBS had previously planned its Carnegie Hall showcase for May 14.