So Many Upfronts, So Little Time

A road map through the three-month march of the media buyers

Spring is around the corner, but media buyers might not notice.

March marks the beginning of upfront season in the television business, a grueling ordeal overstuffed with so much data and so many stats that it gets hard to tell Freeform from Hallmark Channel. Sometimes, there’s shrimp and drinks to make it go down a bit easier but however you look at it, upfronts are a slog.

Here B&C present a handy guide to the programmers that are holding upfront events, with some talking points just in case you sleep through the deck or fail to remember the presentation the next day.

See you at NBCU Cable, if you’re still standing.

«MARCH

MARCH 7
Disney Media, Orlando, Fla.

TOP-RATED SHOWS:

DISNEY CHANNEL: Austin & Ally, K.C. Undercover, Girl Meets World

DISNEY XD: Gravity Falls, Lab Rats, Wander over Yonder

DISNEY JR: Lion Guard, PJ Masks, Goldie & Bear

WATCH DISNEY: Liv and Maddie, Austin & Ally, Disney’s Mickey Mouse (shorts)

WATCH DISNEY XD: Gravity Falls, Lab Rats, Star Wars Rebels

WATCH DISNEY JR.: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Minnie’s Bow-Toons, Lion Guard

KEY SALES EXEC: Rita Ferro, executive VP, Disney Media sales and marketing

THE PITCH: “Disney Media’s portfolio of media brands has an unparalleled, emotional connection to kids of all ages and their families too; Disney stories and characters inspire and entertain and are delivered at every engagement point where kids and moms are spending their time: TV, online, digital, social and mobile. Disney continues to bring more families together—with nearly 33 billion total audience impressions in 2015.”

KEY CHALLENGES FOR 2016: Disney made gains as Nickeldeon struggled but Nick appears on the comeback trail, sucking up a large share of marketing dollars aimed at young viewers. With most of its networks still advertising-free, even as Disney grows online, it is limited as a TV vehicle for marketers.

MARCH 8
Game Show Network, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS: Skin Wars, Idiotest, Family Feud

KEY SALES EXEC: John Zaccario, GSN executive VP, ad sales

THE PITCH: “The most upfront presentation you will attend. GSN will tell a story of growth in audience, new viewership and original programming and you’ll get the direct perspective from our talented hosts and executive producers—including Rebecca Romijn, RuPaul Charles, Donald Faison, Ben Gleib, Barry Poznick, Michael Levitt and others.”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: Ratings grew in 2015 and the network is increasing its output of original shows, but GSN is still small and it has to do more work to get into the minds of media buyers and onto buy lists.

MARCH 29
Scripps Networks, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS:

HGTV: Fixer Upper; Flip or Flop; Ellen’s Design Challenge

FOOD: Worst Cooks; Guy’s Grocery Games; Kids’ Baking Championship

TRAVEL: Expedition Unknown; Booze Traveler; Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations

DIY: Rehab Addict; Garage Gold; Kitchen Crashers

COOKING: Unique Sweets; Unique  Eats; Man, Fire, Food

GREAT AMERICAN COUNTRY: Barnwood Builders; Flea Market Flip

KEY SALES EXEC:

HGTV/DIY NETWORK: Donna Stephens, senior VP, ad sales

TRAVEL CHANNEL/GAC: Greg Regis, senior VP, ad sales

FOOD/COOKING: Karen Grinthal, senior VP, ad sales

THE PITCH: “Our networks aggregate an upscale adult audience highly valued by advertisers. Viewers overwhelmingly watch live and are thoroughly engaged with our lifestyle content, therefore more apt to purchase the products they see advertised.”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: While its other big networks thrive, Travel Channel remains a work in progress, especially now that it’s bought Cox’s 35% interest in the channel. The company is increasingly getting into branded content online, where its lifestyle brands could face digital challengers.

MARCH 29
Discovery Communications, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS:

DISCOVERY CHANNEL: Gold Rush, Alaskan Bush People, Deadliest Catch

TLC: Sister Wives, Little Couple, 90 Day Fiancé

INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY: Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda, A Crime to Remember, Deadline Crime with Tamron Hall.

ANIMAL PLANET: River Monsters, Whale Wars, The Last Alaskans.

SCIENCE: Outrageous Acts of Science, Survivorman, Through the Wormhole

KEY SALES EXECS: Ben Price, executive VP, ad sales; Scott Felenstein, executive VP, ad sales; Scott Kohn, group senior VP, regional ad sales

THE PITCH: “Come to Discovery Communications’ upfront presentation and explore all of the new ways we can connect your brand to our superfans across a variety of platforms. We have developed new ways to partner with you, utilizing new targeting and analytics through our Discovery Engage platform to help drive your business.”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: While mature networks like Discovery Channel have been rejuvenated, the company needs to push up ad prices for Investigation Discovery, which is still treated as a young network by advertisers despite its status as a top destination for women.

MARCH 30
FX Networks Plans in development as of presstime.

Crown Media Family Networks, New York

TOP THREE SHOWS:

HALLMARK CHANNEL: Good Witch, Countdown to Christmas Movies, Fall Harvest

HALLMARK MOVIES & MYSTERIES: The Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas, Murder She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Mystery

KEY AD SALES EXEC: Ed Georger, executive VP, ad sales and digital media advertising

THE PITCH: “While the majority of broadcast and cable is experiencing both revenue and audience attrition, Crown Media is experiencing notable growth in the family-friendly entertainment genre. Crown Media’s upfront event will allow media buyers to engage with the brand’s ambassadors in person and get a deeper sense of the unique value Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries bring to the table.”

KEY CHALLENGES FOR 2016-17: As its ratings move closer to parity with the major cable networks, Crown must convince agencies and buyers that it deserves the same premium prices its rivals get for successful original programming.

MARCH 31
Comedy Central, New York Plans in development as of presstime.

«APRIL

APRIL 7
Freeform, New York

TOP THREE SERIES: Pretty Little Liars, Shadowhunters, The Fosters

KEY SALES EXEC: Laura Nathanson, Executive VP, sales and marketing, Freeform

THE PITCH: “Come join us as we present the new programming and marketing tie-ins that are part of our Freeform world. Key to our new brand are shows with fresh young talent, established hit makers, new digital-first offerings and of course the best party.”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: The network changed its name from ABC Family to Freeform in January. The association with ABC and its family branding gave some buyers comfort even as they bought racy content aimed at young women. Will the new name resonate with viewer as well as clients?

APRIL 18
BET Network, Chicago (April 20, New York) Plans in development as of presstime.

APRIL 21
MTV, New York Plans in development as of presstime. «MARCH continued

MAY 16
NBC, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS: The Voice, Blindspot, Chicago Fire

KEY SALES EXEC: Dan Lovinger, executive VP, entertainment sales

THE PITCH: “From Today to The Tonight Show, Mr. Robot and Kardashians to the Blacklist and El Señor de Los Cielos to Sunday and Thursday Night Football and The Voice, NBCUniversal has the most powerful portfolio in the industry. We will showcase all of the new programming and data innovations we’re  investing in plus feature our partnerships like NBCUniversal + AOL/Buzzfeed/Vox.”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: The addition of Thursday Night Football strengthens NBC in primetime, but the network still needs to develop comedies that stick while The Voice remains strong enough to use as a launching pad for new series.

Fox, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS: Empire, The X-Files, Lucifer.

KEY SALES EXEC: Toby Byrne, president, advertising sales, Fox Networks Group.

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: Fox got a shot in the arm from the X-Files and the continuing popularity of Empire. Ad sales were up in the fourth quarter for the first time in a year and a half. But with American Idol bowing out, entertainment heads Gary and Dana Walden must come up with some fresh hits.

MAY 17
ESPN, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS: College football playoff national championship game, college football playoff semifinal games.

KEY SALES EXECS: Ed Erhardt, president, global sales and marketing; Eric Johnson, executive VP of global multimedia sales

THE PITCH: “ESPN knows, lives and breathes ‘live’—on TV, online, on mobile and radio. The immediacy of the live sports experience is at the core of ESPN—stories that play out in real time, with all the uncertainty, emotion and thrill of not knowing what will happen next. In an age when time-shifted viewing has disrupted the industry, ‘live’ sports are immune to those challenges, and ESPN offers solutions to advertisers that connect their brands to millions of engaged sports fans across screens.”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: ESPN was unable to convince the committee that runs the college football playoff to move its semifinal games from New Year’s Eve and ratings tumbled. The departures of Bill Simmons, Keith Olbermann, Colin Cowherd and others created a perception of a talent drain at a time when questions about subscriber losses are casting a shadow over ESPN’s dominance in the sports world.

ABC, New York

TOP -RATED SHOWS: Modern Family, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy

KEY AD SALES EXECS: Geri Wang, president, ABC sales; Debbie Richman, senior VP, primetime sales Doug Hochstadt, senior VP, proposals and Jimmy Kimmel Live sales; Catherine Sullivan, senior VP, news sales; Heidi Lobel, senior VP, daytime sales; Irv Schulman, senior VP, syndication sales; Pooja Midha, senior VP, digital and new media sales

THE PITCH: “Channing Dungey, in her new role as ABC Entertainment president, joins Geri Wang, president of Sales, to highlight ABC’s market-leading multi-platform programming and sales initiatives. Get a first-glimpse into what shows will make everyone’s watch list and drive social conversation, see new research on the effectiveness of multiplatform TV, and don’t miss Jimmy Kimmel’s annual marketplace—ah, ‘commentary.’”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: Though ad revenues were up 8% in the fourth quarter, ABC’s primetime performance wasn’t strong enough to keep Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood from firing entertainment chief Paul Lee. ABC’s earned plaudits for introducing shows that embrace diversity, but it could use a few more hits.

MAY 18
Turner, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS:

ADULT SWIM: Family Guy, American Dad, Robot Chicken

BOOMERANG: Teen Titans Go, Amazing World of Gumball, Be Cool Scooby Doo

CARTOON NETWORK: We Bare Bears, Total Drama; The Ridonculous Race, Nijago

TBS: American Dad! Ground Floor, Cougar Town

TNT: Rizzoli & Isles, The Last Ship, The Librarians

TRUTV: Impractical Jokers, Adam Ruins Everything, The Carbonaro Effect

CNN: News shows: Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, Erin Burnett Outfront. Originals: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, The Seventies, Finding Jesus.

NLN: Morning Express, Weekend Express, Nancy Grace

KEY SALES EXEC: Donna Speciale, president of ad sales

THE PITCH: “The Turner portfolio, spanning entertainment, kids, news and sports brands, is a mustbuy for any advertiser. The portfolio represents audiences with over $4.7 trillion dollars in spending power per year, on average, reaches more than 76% of adults 18+ domestically per month.”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: Turner chief creative officer Kevin Reilly needs some big shows to reverse ratings declines at TNT and TBS and attract millennial viewers. Turner has been pushing its data cloud, but even the cloud needs mass audiences to give clients reach.

CBS, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS: NCIS, CBS Thursday Night Football, The Big Bang Theory

KEY SALES EXEC: Jo Ann Ross, president, network sales

THE PITCH: “Year after year, CBS’ presentation gets the highest grades from the advertising community…concise, smart and showcases the best content and clips. Ross’ performance at Carnegie Hall is always a showstopper, and CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves proves why he is the best in the business when he  takes center stage.”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: CBS walks the edge between dependable and predictable. Showman Moonves must reach into his bag of tricks to find a younger, smarter show to add to a familiar lineup.

MAY 19
The CW, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS: The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow

KEY SALES EXEC: Rob Tuck, executive VP, national sales, The CW Network

THE PITCH: “The CW has continued to evolve this season, with the most critically acclaimed shows on broadcast television and a broader, more balanced audience [the network’s median age is 42, and its audience is split nearly evenly between females and males, 52%-48%].”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: The CW has mined the D.C. universe to make itself less dependent on young women, but it’s programming is the most DVRd among the broadcasters, and advertisers aren’t fond of having their commercials delayed or skipped.

NBCUniversal Cable, New York

TOP-RATED SHOWS:

USA: Mr. Robot, Suits, Chrisley Knows Best

SYFY: The Expanse, The Magicians, Face/Off

BRAVO: Odd Mom Out, Venderpump Rules, Top Chef E!: Keeping Up With the Karashians, The Royals, Hollywood Medium With Tyler Henry.

KEY SALES EXECS: Dan Lovinger, executive VP, entertainment advertising sales group, NBCUniversal; Laura Molen, executive VP, lifestyle advertising sales group, NBCUniversal

THE PITCH: “From the Today show to The Tonight Show, Mr. Robot and Kardashians to The Blacklist and El Señor de Los Cielos to Sunday and Thursday Night Football and The Voice, NBCUniversal has the most powerful portfolio in the industry. We will showcase all of the new programming and data innovations we’re investing in plus feature our partnerships like NBCUniversal + AOL/Buzzfeed/Vox.”

KEY CHALLENGE FOR 2016: NBCU reorganized the management of its cable portfolio in part to reverse ratings declines. Mr. Robot won over critics, but the company needs some big new hits.