With Upfronts Week Canceled, Here’s What Presenters Are—and Aren’t—Doing Instead

Some have set virtual Plan Bs, while others are foregoing events this year

Buyers and advertisers will miss out on in-person upfront events from companies including NBCUniversal this year. - Credit by Virginia Sherwood/NBCUniversal
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Today was supposed to be the start of the most packed upfronts week ever, with the addition of Discovery’s event to an already overstuffed lineup of presentations for buyers and advertisers. But, of course, Covid-19 had other plans.

All in-person upfronts week events were canceled two months ago, on March 12. At that time, most presenters vowed to offer a digital-only replacement event, with some declaring they would take place at the same time as their originally scheduled in-person presentation. But as the pandemic continued wreaking havoc on TV advertising and the overall economy, the traditional upfronts week collapsed in April, with the majority of companies opting to postpone or cancel their events.

But now, as they prepare for a staggered upfront marketplace, companies have set their alternate presentation plans: Some have scrapped a standard event entirely this year, while a few companies are still planning broad virtual replacement upfront presentations. Here’s an updated list of each presenter’s new strategy, in order of when they would have presented this week:

NBCUniversal

The company will host a “One Industry Update” livestream for marketers and agencies this morning, talking about its new One Platform offering and how that will factor into this year’s upfront. But even though the event is taking place at the same time NBCU’s annual Radio City Music Hall gala had been scheduled, the company emphasized this isn’t a replacement for its upfront presentation. It is still planning on holding a virtual upfront event for both consumers and marketers, but hasn’t said when that will take place.

Fox Corp.

During last week’s earnings call, Fox executive chairman and CEO Lachlan Murdoch confirmed that his company will not be holding a traditional upfront event this year. Instead, the company has been hosting virtual town halls over the past month for its Fox Sports, Fox Entertainment and Fox News divisions, in which execs have been speaking with clients about the state of the marketplace and Covid-19’s impact on their businesses.

Discovery Inc.

When Discovery canceled its upfront event—which would have been its first presentation during upfronts week—the company said it had prepared “an alternative digital experience … with details to be announced at a later date.” Those details still have yet to be announced, but the company isn’t planning a single big presentation event and instead has been relying on its meetings and talks with agencies and clients since March to share its upfronts plans.

Univision

Univision will livestream a business presentation Tuesday afternoon in its usual upfront time slot, but the company stressed that the event won’t be a programming-driven upfront replacement. That will happen on Tuesday, June 16, when Univision hosts a virtual content presentation for advertisers.

Disney

Last week, Disney said it will hold an upfront roadshow, with seven separate presentations tailored to specific agencies and clients, in lieu of a single livestreamed event. The seven events—six for holding companies, and one for smaller agencies, PR agencies and direct client relationships—will be held during the weeks of May 25 and June 1.

WarnerMedia/Xandr

WarnerMedia held what turned out to be the only in-person upfront event this year—its CNN Experience presentation for advertisers in early March—and when it and AT&T sibling Xandr canceled their joint event two months ago, they announced plans to hold a virtual event on the same day as its in-person presentation, on May 13. But that has been scrapped: WarnerMedia is no longer planning any kind of virtual event, and is instead sharing its upfront messaging via its regular conversations with clients, as well as its new Solutions Sync newsletters.

ViacomCBS

For its first upfront as a combined company, ViacomCBS will now hold virtual presentations May 18 and 19, which it is calling ViacomCBS Upfront @Home. The May 18 event will focus on the Viacom-legacy assets—including cable networks and Pluto TV—while the May 19 presentation will center on the CBS-legacy properties and feature the unveiling of CBS’ fall programming lineup.

The CW

The network, which usually closes out upfronts week, won’t be holding any kind of upfront replacement event, and is focusing instead on its usual conversations and presentations with clients to discuss its upfronts strategy. However, The CW will announce its 2020-21 schedule in the near future, and is stressing stability after renewing 13 shows, almost its entire lineup, earlier this year.


@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.