NBCUniversal has pushed in recent months to change the way TV audiences are measured and to shake up the methods Madison Avenue uses to place ads, but at least one thing about the Comcast-backed media conglomerate will remain the same: the location of its main upfront presentation.
NBCU pledged to hold forth from Radio City Music Hall once again, just as it has for many years before the coronavirus pandemic scuttled the in-person extravaganzas that have become so much a part of the TV networks’ annual pitch to advertisers. The owner of the NBC, MSNBC and USA networks said it would kick off the industry’s annual Upfront Week on May 16, with an evening event aimed at promoting Spanish-language outlet Telemundo, marking a return to at least some of the traditions of the annual market, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for their next programming cycle.
Linda Yaccarino, NBCU’s global chairman of advertising and partnerships, announced the schedule Tuesday.
The networks have for two years running scuttled their live shows, part of what has typically been a very public mid-May week of hoopla that the industry counts on to drum up interest and demand in their shows and ad inventory — from the viewing public at large as well as Madison Avenue. “Upfront Week” brings with it lots of song-and-dance routines; meetings and dinners with advertisers; news about new programs and actors taking part in TV series; sneak peeks at “Star Trek” relaunches; and conversations with Charles Barkley about basketball.
Even as many executives pine for such confabs, the business around them is changing — irrevocably. The TV networks have more competitors. YouTube and Facebook both offer original video series, and Amazon has purchased the rights to stream the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football.” And the TV companies have more varied inventory to sell. A significant chunk of the ad dollars once earmarked for linear primetime TV have migrated to streaming services that include Disney’s Hulu, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, NBCU’s Peacock, Fox’s Tubi, ViacomCBS’ Paramount Plus and Discovery’s Discovery Plus. According to Variety estimates, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and the CW secured between $8.2 billion and $10.1 billion for their 2021-2022 primetime schedules, compared with between $8.2 billion and $9.8 billion for their 2020-2021 offerings, but down significantly from the 2019-2020 cycle, which was less affected by the pandemic.
NBCU returns to Radio City as two of its rivals, Walt Disney and Fox are abandoning their longtime perches. Fox, which has held forth for years from New York’s Beacon Theater, is moving its show downtown. And Disney, which has presented its fall schedule from Lincoln Center for decades, intends to hold a more interactive presentation at a locale that has yet to be revealed. Discovery, which is preparing for a merger with WarnerMedia, could be mulling something new as well, if the companies are able to join before the annual sales season kicks off. In the past, Discovery held its upfront presentation in advance of its bigger competitors.
The upfront meetings in May once were the main way for the networks to communicate with sponsors, but these days, they merely represent the final sales pitch. Like its competitors, NBCU will hold a series of presentations for advertisers starting months earlier. On March 22, NBCU will showcase ad-technology, including data and measurement, at a conference originating from Studio 8H, the home of “Saturday Night Live.” During the week of April 11, the company will host previews of some of the content it plans to introduce, as well as some of its audience insights. And in early May, NBCUniversal will showcase its Peacock streaming hub as part of the industry’s annual “newfronts,” or presentations to advertisers by owners of digital-media venues.