Paramount Global won’t hold forth at New York’s Carnegie Hall during TV’s “upfront” season, signaling some of the many changes taking place in the ways traditional media companies talk to Madison Avenue about matching commercials with content.
Paramount, owner of CBS, Nickelodeon and Paramount+, “will be hosting a series of high-impact, intimate gatherings in April for each of our major agency partners and their clients in lieu of our traditional presence at Carnegie Hall,” said John Halley, the company’s new president of U.S. ad sales, in a statement. “We believe this expanded format will prove more effective in facilitating our upcoming Upfront discussions.”
The former CBS Corp., now part of Paramount, has used Wednesdays for years to mount a big show for advertisers. The perch has long symbolized the strength of the TV business, and CBS has relied for years, on guests such as The Who and Stephen Colbert to help the company make an impression on advertisers.
TV networks have put on glitzy upfront shows for advertisers for a week every May for decades, but as technology forces hard shifts on the business of advertising, a spirited debate about the viability of such presentations has grown louder. Advertisers are moving more of their money to digital and streaming opportunities, which are often governed by audience-profiling algorithms and software, reducing the need for a giant annual haggle during which the majority of TV’s commercial inventory is usually sold.
Even so, Paramount is taking a risk. Rival NBCUniversal has already indicated it intends to conduct upfront business as usual with a presentation on May 15th, 2023, at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The company will hold a separate event for its Telemundo Spanish-language media outlet on the same day. Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery declined to comment about their 2023 upfront plans, and representatives for Disney could not be reached for immediate reaction.
TV companies that abandon upfront presentations often find that a competitor is eager to usurp the space on the calendar. In 2008, NBCUniversal backed out of the usual Radio City spectacle in favor of a walk-through “experience” at its New York headquarters. Fox, which had usually closed off a week of upfront pitches on Thursday, moved over to Mondays with a more traditional offering — and has stayed there ever since. Plenty of new-media companies that have made a bigger point of courting advertisers could also try to muscle in. Netflix, for example, is revving up ad-sales efforts for a new tier of its streaming service that includes commercials, and Google’s YouTube last year held a presentation during a week of upfront meetings that have typically centered on TV.
Paramount’s Halley noted that “new realities call for new approaches,” and suggested that “as media investment becomes more complex, the event needs to evolve to meet this moment.”
The individual meetings, Halley said, are “intended to encourage conversation with our most trusted partners — to hear directly from the agencies and advertisers we serve and who form the bedrock of our business.” The earlier timing, he added,” will increase share of voice, in a more fitting setting for deeper engagement.”
The networks are facing a storm of challenges. Many big advertisers are considering whether to pull back on ad outlays due to fears of a looming recession and after tumbles in the stock market. But the networks have also started to sell in different ways that are less tied to serving up a single ad for millions of viewers at 9 p.m. on Thursday evening. These days, the networks must bundle thousands of impressions from across a wide array of viewing windows and convince advertisers such a reach is worth a premium.
Paramount is a big player in the impressions business. It offers up dozens of youth-skewing programs via its Nickeldoeon kids-media empire, the popular “Yellowstone” series on Paramount Network and Paramount+. and a bevy of popular sports, news and entertainment programs on CBS. But it also has a lot of less-desirable tonnage to sell, notably the inventory on cable networks like MTV and Comedy Central that are largely stocked with repeats — an experience easily replicated on a so-called “FAST” channel. Halley is about to find out whether private meetings represent a better way to get the word out about advertiser opportunities.