There was no Lincoln Center, and no clips from ABC shows to share, but Disney still managed to remotely recreate its annual upfront event for buyers and advertisers. Because of the pandemic, the company opted for a virtual upfront roadshow this year, with tailored agency presentations that were held over the past week and a half.
During the event, the company shared its new ad formats (including its first offering involving Hulu), offered brands a way to help rejuvenate their businesses following the pandemic, featured some surprise cameos that included Tom Brady and perhaps most importantly to many regular upfront attendees, featured Jimmy Kimmel’s annual upfront roast.
Disney ad sales chief Rita Ferro and her team were forced to revamp Disney’s upfront after canceling their annual Lincoln Center event in March as a result of Covid-19. A month ago, Disney said it would hold an upfront roadshow—featuring nine tailored presentations for holding companies and their clients, direct-to-consumer brands and the media, held over two weeks—instead of a single livestreamed event.
The event’s focus “came down to three core pillars: At Disney, we create culture, we drive connections and creativity is a cornerstone of what we do,” Ferro told Adweek. Those three areas were spotlighted in separate packages narrated by Ellen Pompeo, Ryan Seacrest and Kerry Washington.
While the 45-minute presentations were largely identical, they differed in two major ways. The opening segment—featuring Anthony Anderson and his Black-ish castmates in character as employees at the comedy’s fictional ad agency, Stevens & Lido—included specific shout outs to each holding company. Later in the presentation, Disney personalized the brand spotlights that focused on the work it had created with those agencies and their brands.
As brands emerge from the pandemic, Ferro said in the presentation, Disney advertising will “help serve in the growth, health and in some cases, renewal of your businesses.”
Disney’s upfront messaging changed as a result of the pandemic because there weren’t clips to show from ABC’s pilots, which hadn’t completed filming prior to the shutdown. As a result, “we were able to spend more time talking about our advertising capabilities,” said Ferro.
New Disney ad offerings in this upfront include a unified ad product from Disney and Hulu, called Disney Hulu XP, which will roll out Oct. 1. It will deliver an addressable audience—adding Hulu to Disney’s first-party data—across all screens, with targeting options, and will be guaranteed on completed video views.
“You’re able to buy guarantees on completed views across the entirety of Hulu and the Disney digital platforms,” said Ferro. “It’s one ad solution that will be powered by first party data that sits across both of them.”
The company is also debuting a unified programmatic approach that will enable client audience data for enhanced targeting and the ability to measure and manage brand frequency across the Disney Digital platform. In the upfront, it will offer buyers one storefront for all biddable video inventory.
“The scale of digital will be extraordinarily significant as part of everything that we do in this upfront,” said Ferro.
Luminate, Disney’s advanced advertising suite, is partnering with Samba TV to create a cross-platform attribution solution, which can measure various KPIs—including purchase intent and time spent with brands—across linear, digital and connected TV.
Disney Advertising Sales is also joining Nielsen’s Addressable TV platform beta, which looks to maximizing delivery in linear addressable TV by giving clients the ability to activate and deactivate addressable ads based on their needs.
During the presentation, the company touted its Disney CreativeWorks branded content studio, whose recent projects include State Farm’s partnership on ESPN’s The Last Dance featuring deep fakes of ’90s SportsCenter segments featuring Kenny Mayne and Keith Olbermann, as well as Toyota capping its 11-season Modern Family partnership with an animated farewell spot that aired before the series finale.
Disney CreativeWorks houses all of the portfolio’s various branded content studios, including ESPN CreativeWorks, NatGeo Content Studio and now Hulu’s GreenHouse.
In lieu of content clips, Ferro spoke with programming execs from Disney’s broadcast and cable platforms—ABC Entertainment, ABC News, ESPN, Hulu, FX, National Geographic and Freeform—about what’s coming up. Among the highlights: three new shows from ABC, a spinoff of FX’s American Horror Story called American Horror Stories and a new Tom Brady docuseries airing next year on ESPN.
Brady made a surprise cameo at the presentation’s conclusion, joining Black-ish’s Stevens & Lido Zoom call and explaining, “Now that I’m part of the Disney family, I can basically pop into whatever meeting I want.”