Early TV Upfront Plans Upended by Coronavirus Concerns

Four March events were scrapped in the space of a week

Fox News Media canceled its upfront gathering, which had been set for March 24. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Exactly one week ago, Adweek published its upfronts and NewFronts calendar for 2020, with all the info about this year’s presentations. At the time, we expected that we would be adding events to the calendar as upfront season progressed. Instead, as the coronavirus has spread, it’s upending upfront plans and prompting some media companies to cancel their events that had been set for this month.

Two March upfront presentations—a “Nowfront” from Comcast’s FreeWheel on March 12, and a Fox News Media event on March 24—were both scrapped this week due to coronavirus concerns. However, the remaining upfront events scheduled for March and beyond remain in place at the moment.

(Adweek is tracking all the latest coronavirus-related cancellations and travel restrictions.)

Tuesday evening, Fox News decided to cancel its event, which would have taken place in its headquarters the morning of March 24. “In a precautionary effort to keep our employees, client and agency partners safe, we have determined that it would be best to cancel our upcoming event in New York based on public health concerns due to coronavirus,” said Jeff Collins, evp of advertising sales for Fox News Media, in a statement.

One day later, FreeWheel followed suit, announcing on its website it was postponing the March 12 event “out of an abundance of caution. The health of our clients, partners and employees is our number one priority. We believe this is the best decision as public health concerns due to coronavirus/COVID-19 continue to evolve. We are disappointed that we will not be able to kick off the upfront season with you. Our hope is to reschedule the event for a later date and we will provide updates as available.”

The other upfront events set for March are all still a go as of now. CNN is holding a CNN Experience for buyers tonight, though the company emphasizes the gathering is not an official upfront event. And the other two big March upfront presentations—AMC Networks’ event on March 18 and A+E Networks’ gathering on March 25—are also going forward.

Update: On March 9, AMC Networks and A+E Networks each canceled their respective events.

Meanwhile, March’s biggest TV-related event, South by Southwest, has not yet been canceled, though several major companies have pulled out of the Austin, Texas, conference, including Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook and WarnerMedia. (Update: SXSW was canceled on March 6.)

Following the A+E Networks presentation on March 25, no other upfront events are scheduled for a month, until NewFronts kicks off the week of April 27. The IAB has not publicly announced any changes to its NewFronts plans and did not respond to inquiries about whether they will go on as planned.

Update: On Thursday afternoon, the IAB released the following statement: “NewFronts is a domestic U.S. event, and there are no government domestic travel advisories, thus at this time we are not planning any changes to the NewFronts agenda. The safety of our members and community is of utmost importance and we are monitoring the situation with coronavirus (COVID-19) closely. We will inform presenters and attendees if anything changes.”

There are also no changes yet to upfronts week plans in May.

Buyers and TV ad sales execs tell Adweek that the coronavirus hasn’t yet affected any business in the scatter market, aside from the travel category scaling back its buys. But there are no overall declines in the scatter market at this point.

The industry traditionally sees ratings spikes when major events like bad weather would keep people indoors for extended periods of time, but those could be less noticeable now as TV viewing has become so fragmented. “I think we’ll see an increase in ‘time spent with video,’ but that will happen across live, delayed, VOD and streaming, so the impact will be tough to measure solely by Nielsen ratings,” said David Campanelli, co-chief investment officer, Horizon Media.

NBCUniversal, meanwhile, said this week that ad sales have remained robust for for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics—the company has surpassed $1.25 billion in ad sales, a new Olympics record—as parent company Comcast and the IOC reaffirmed their commitment to the summer games amid coronavirus concerns.


@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.
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