WarnerMedia/Xandr, Discovery, Fox and The CW Scrap Their May Upfront Events

Like NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS, they will go digital-only due to the coronavirus

WarnerMedia will not be returning to the Hulu Theater at MSG for this year's upfront event. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

AT&T is the third media company today to pull the plug on its upfronts week presentation in May, opting to go digital-only as yet another upfront presentation is canceled because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The combined WarnerMedia/Xandr upfront, which was set for May 13 at New York’s Hulu Theater at MSG, has been scrapped.

Update: Thursday afternoon, The CW said it is also pulling the plug on its upfront event, which had been planned for May 14 in New York’s City Center. Shortly after, Fox Corp. and Discovery canceled their presentations planned for May 11 and May 12, respectively.

“The health and safety of the advertising community, our employees and production partners is our absolute priority, so we will alter our plans for this year’s Upfront presentation,” said Gerhard Zeiler, chief revenue officer of WarnerMedia, and Kirk McDonald, chief business officer at Xandr, in a joint statement. “We have the technological and creative means to showcase our unified WarnerMedia/Xandr message through a unique video experience and will do just that on May 13.”

This would have been the first joint presentation for the sibling companies, which held separate events last May but joined forces for this year’s upfront.

Both companies are entering the upfront with major leadership vacancies. Xandr CEO Brian Lesser stepped down unexpectedly on Wednesday, while WarnerMedia has yet to fill the ad sales position that has been open since Donna Speciale exited last July.

Thursday afternoon, The CW Network—which is jointly owned by ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia—said it will also be canceling its May upfront event.

“In light of recent developments and the current guidelines being set by health officials regarding COVID-19, The CW network has decided to forego its traditional live upfront presentation scheduled for Thursday May 14 at City Center Theater in New York, as we join the community’s efforts to ensure that everyone’s health and safety is our top priority,” The CW said in a statement. “As a result, we are currently exploring alternative and innovative ways of communicating The CW’s overall strategy, showcase our new and returning programming and present our upcoming fall schedule to advertisers, press, the industry and our fans. We will be sharing additional details as we move forward.”

Discovery, which was going to be moving into upfronts week for the first time, is also pulling the plug. The company will announce details of its “alternative digital experience” at a later date.

“With Discovery’s increased scale and reach, we were proud and excited to showcase our expanded portfolio of beloved brands and talent, for the first time, during the traditional broadcast upfront week. The decision to cancel is bittersweet but unequivocally the right one,” said Jon Steinlauf, Discovery’s chief U.S. ad sales officer, in a statement. “We have a terrific story to tell and more opportunities and products than ever for current and prospective advertisers. We will just tell that story in a way that best suits these unprecedented times.”

Fox Corp. canceled its in-person event and will hold a digital presentation instead.

“While we always look forward to seeing our brand and agency partners at the Beacon Theatre, the health and well-being of our clients, talent and colleagues is our top priority,” said ad sales chief Marianne Gambelli in a statement. “We are reimagining our presentation to engage our clients using a new format that will highlight the quality content the industry expects from Fox. As the leading broadcast network this season, we have so much to build on and share, and we look forward to doing that in this new way.”

Earlier today, both ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal canceled their upfront week events, also opting for digital-only presentations, though NBCUniversal said it will also televise its presentation.

Until today, no media companies had scrapped their plans for May’s upfronts week, the biggest week of upfront season, in which buyers and clients from across the country descend on New York for a week of presentations, cocktail parties and meetings about the coming TV season.

Previously, almost every March upfront event was canceled due to concerns over the epidemic-turned-pandemic, including presentations from AMC Networks and A+E Networks. Only CNN was able to hold its upfront event, CNN Experience, but the coronavirus was the elephant in the room.

On Wednesday, the Interactive Advertising Bureau announced a streaming option for next month’s NewFronts events, with several presenters already indicating they will move to digital-only presentations, including YouTube, Meredith and Twitter. Vudu, meanwhile, has dropped out of the NewFronts entirely.

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