The way we consume television shows has changed a lot in the last five years. When cable was king, over 105 million US tv households were paid tv subscribers. Now, many have cut the cord with only 83 million subscribers last fall. Do you have a cable subscription? Even if you don’t, you may still watch main network shows online or when they eventually make their way to a streaming service. We continue to have an appetite for tv, but we’re consuming it differently. And while broadcasting companies continue to change by buying and combining services, they continue to present new shows via an UpFront.
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What is an UpFront?
If you’ve ever worked in the television industry, you’re likely familiar with the term “UpFront”. For everyone else, we can explain. The UpFronts happen in the late spring and are a series of presentations made by major tv networks. These typically happen in L.A. and New York and are a chance to showcase and promote fall and midseason lineups to advertisers, press, and industry executives. The goal is to get everyone excited about the next Friends. That’s done with a flashy presentation, usually followed by a big party, giving attendees a sneak peek. In fact, the best part of UpFronts is getting a look at the new shows coming down the pike. We’ll include some trailers in the blog to whet your appetite.
Traditionally, the UpFronts are meant to entice advertisers to buy time during specific shows or programming blocks. If an ad buyer thinks they’ve found the next great show, they want to buy time during that show’s broadcast. Or if they feel a show will be watched by their target market, they want to fill those commercial slots. This show-based approach is specific to traditional broadcast television. With streaming, advertisers can actually choose their audience based on targeting data. But this blog is about broadcast tv, so let’s talk more about what an UpFront looks like.
In the US
An UpFront is usually a big party. Because of COVID, the presentations are virtual again this year. In the US, this is the week major broadcasters such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and TNT/TBS are rolling out their schedules for the upcoming season. The UpFronts also include materials from the streaming counterparts for each network. The events are due to take place through Thursday of this week.
Canadian broadcast executives typically travel to the US for UpFronts. They’re looking for properties to bid on to fill programming schedules. One thing that sometimes makes buying shows from the US difficult for broadcasters in Canada is simulcasting. If Global tv buys a police procedural set to air on Tuesday night in the US, and then that show gets moved to Wednesday night, it can create scheduling conflicts. In the US, the broadcaster is only dealing with their own schedule. In Canada, a broadcaster who buys content from several US companies will likely need to follow schedule changes south of the border. The domino effect caused by schedule changes in the US means a broadcaster could end up chasing changes dictated by the shows they’ve purchased from US broadcasters. In short, it makes programming’s job a headache.
Canada also has UpFronts that are typically scheduled in early June. Once a Canadian broadcaster has returned with the shows bought in the US, it bundles those with any homegrown shows and returning shows to create a presentation. If all goes well, the media buyers watching the show will see something they like and buy ad time. The Canadian UpFronts will also be virtual this year due to COVID, but most broadcasters had already abandoned the lavish parties at big event spaces in the last few years thanks to reduced budgets.
What about all the online content providers? Do they have an UpFront? Yes, they do! It’s call the NewFronts. That’s where AOL, Google, Yahoo, and more present their advertising options to buyers. It’s the digital version of an UpFront designed to get ad buyers to allocate some of their budget to non-tv content. The 2021 NewFronts took place in early May and included players such as Roku, TikTok, Amazon, and YouTube.
Must See TV
Some of us can still recall what it was like to schedule tv viewing. Remember NBC’s Must See TV lineup? Incredibly, this campaign ran from 1982-2006. During those 24 years, hugely popular shows such as Cheers, The Cosby Show, and Friends kept us home and glued to the tv on Thursday nights. Now, we can catch network shows online after they air, PVR them, or ignore main network series altogether. The many content choices consumers have today are splitting available ad dollars and changing UpFronts more every year. But just like September will always remind us of a new school year, late spring will remain UpFront season for veterans of the broadcast industry.