Late last week, TV found itself in “uncharted territory” as networks began to navigate the ad sales fallout of sports cancellations, as well as other seismic ripples as a result of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, media companies have begun to formulate their short-term ad sales strategies, with Disney becoming the first to publicly share its plans. They include pointing its live sports advertisers to other programming in its portfolio, including Good Morning America and its Freeform original series.
Disney ad sales chief Rita Ferro sent a note to clients on Tuesday, which Disney Ad Sales shared today, updating them on the company’s efforts on helping advertisers find alternatives for their live sports ad buys.
“We are working around the clock with our colleagues at ESPN to determine replacement programming for the remainder of March and April so that we are able to best support the plans you have in place,” Ferro said.
She pointed to Tuesday’s programming update from Burke Magnus, ESPN’s evp of programming acquisitions and scheduling, who said the network is working on “fun, compelling archival content and/or themed and stunt event programming that will provide a diversion at a time that there are virtually no other live sports to watch.” ESPN is also looking into getting rights to re-air some full classic games it does not already own the rights to broadcast.
Ferro also noted that Disney is working with the various professional leagues that have suspended their season—including the NBA and MLB—”to determine go-forward plans and be prepared to ensure sponsors are ready to go as soon as they are.”
Networks and their clients are in the process of determining what will become of the ad buys that had been locked in for these various sporting events. Some could be shifted into other programming, either replacement shows or elsewhere on the respective network. Other sports ad buys could shift to later games if and when those leagues resume activity. In other cases, marketers will opt to recoup their ad spend.
Independent research firm MoffettNathanson estimated that if the rest of the 2019-2020 basketball season is canceled, Disney’s ESPN could lose $481 million in NBA ad revenue.
For advertisers whose sports ad buys were upended, Ferro said Disney is working on opportunities in “our signature franchises like Good Morning America and our Freeform series, where we have a lot of feel-good family content that can be great resonators for client messaging.”
On a related note, Disney’s entertainment brands are seeing “increased audiences and engagement” on both linear and digital platforms, including Hulu, as a result of more consumers staying at home amid the pandemic, Ferro said.
ABC has expanded its daytime news coverage after temporarily replacing GMA 3: Strahan, Sara & Keke—the third hour of Good Morning America that airs in the afternoon—with a daily coronavirus special hosted by ABC’s Amy Robach, offering another opportunity for clients.
Meanwhile, Disney has seen increased ad activity from categories like CPG (consumer packaged goods) and DTC bands, “in order to meet the rapidly changing needs and consumption patterns from consumers,” Ferro said. “We are actively working with many of you to help maximize your creative messaging and your plans to respond to these rapid shifts in consumer behavior.”
However, for many marketers the situation isn’t as easy as simply deciding where to reallocate their ad spend. Brands with campaigns specifically tied to March Madness and other canceled sporting events, or products that might be delayed due to the coronavirus, will have to regroup.
“There’s some marketers whose campaigns are evergreen, but I think that many marketers are going through this process at this moment to figure out what their messaging should look like and their business focus should be,” said Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence at GroupM.
As this crisis continues, vowed Ferro, “we are here to help execute, strategize and plan for the next two weeks and the next two months. We will continue to focus on the short and long of what this means to you and to us, and we will do it together as partners.”