WarnerMedia Wraps Upfront, Claiming Solid Results but Offering Scant Detail

Jason Kilar

WarnerMedia said it posted solid ad sales in the industry’s annual upfront, but, like its rivals this year, offered little evidence of whether it had notched volume gains in a market where advertisers were forced to capitulate to significant hikes in the rates they pay to reach large groups of viewers.

In a statement, the AT&T-owned company said it had completed “the most successful Upfront marketplace in the company’s history,” in terms of securing advance ad commitments. But it released no detail about how much advertisers earmarked for linear TV or streaming. Ad buyers have suggested marketers are moving their dollars out of traditional TV and into new streaming video outlets like Warner’s HBO Max, which has commanded significant rates but also offers ad units that cost much less than they might on traditional television.

Executives indicated they saw interest in HBO Max, and noted the company was poised to test new format and ad initiatives with clients on that service. WarnerMedia launched an ad-supported version of HBO Max in June. They also indicated the company had attracted some new clients to run ads across its portfolio.

During the 2019 upfront, the last ad sales session to take place under normal business circumstances, WarnerMedia saw flat volume for its TV properties, with notable increases in commitments allocated to broadband video and video on demand. The company’s cable-TV unit has in the past typically secured a little over $1 billion in advertising each quarter. AT&T said ad sales in 2020 had fallen due to dynamics associated with the coronavirus, including fewer sports broadcasts and lower ad budgets.