Disney is shaking up its traditional “upfront” process, planning to host multiple showcases for advertisers that highlight sports, technology and creativity, while moving its annual sales event to a new venue.
“Everyone recognizes we understand storytelling, but we are also leading with innovations around data and targeting and really connecting brands with their consumers,” says Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising Sales, in an interview.
Disney intends to hold its biggest upfront event on Tuesday, May 17, at New York’s Basketball City complex downtown. The venue, says Ferro, will allow the company to discuss its broad media portfolio in a more communal, interactive manner. “It doesn’t have the theater, where everyone sits eyes looking forward, and I think you’ll get a very different feeling when you leave there,” the executive says.
Disney for years has used Lincoln Center as its base for the industry’s glitzy upfront, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for the next programming cycle. The media companies are working for ad dollars as Madison Avenue is shifting allocations from traditional TV to streaming video, and all the companies are fine-tuning their approaches for advertisers interested in more than just reaching big masses of consumers with a 30-second TV spot.
As such, Ferro says the Disney event will feature a different slate of presenters than in years past, but with at least one nod to tradition. Jimmy Kimmel will make an appearance, continuing his annual lampoon of media and advertising. “He’s an important part of our upfront and I think he’s going to be very excited when he gets up on a night that doesn’t; feel like the same thing we’ve done for a very long time,” she says.
Before May arrives, however, Disney plans an array of individual showcases to make sure advertisers and other interested parties have time to digest information about new systems and offers.
On March 3, the company will hold a showcase of its ad-tech capabilities, detailing progress it has made since unveiling efforts to tackle addressable advertising and digital audiences last year. Disney will hold an event highlighting its sports portfolio – the company has in recent months struck new rights deals with the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball – on April 6.
And on April 26, it will hold a more intimate gathering with some of its top creators, offering a preview of what kinds of content and storylines might be in the offing in months to come. This event is “a really customized presentation” that Disney has not done in the past, says Ferro, and will give people a chance to hear from “studio leads and creative leads” about “how we are thinking about content and how is what we are doing resonating with consumers, and on what platforms? How do we move content across platforms and when do we premiere it?”
Disney is, like its rivals, trying to maintain advertising volume in linear TV while spurring clients to spend more on streaming venues like Hulu. In 2021, overall upfront ad commitments were said to be up more than 10% in cable, sports and across the company’s overall broadcast portfolio. But commitments for linear primetime on ABC were on par with 2020, when Variety estimates Disney’s ABC secured between between $1.66 billion and $2.18 billion, compared with between $1.95 billion and $2.42 billion for the 2019-2020 season