All five broadcast networks, along with WarnerMedia, will skip their live upfront shows in May in favor of video presentations. Basic cable network Discovery and streamer Hulu are also opting for digital upfronts. CBS on Thursday was the first broadcaster to announce changes for its May upfront, with NBC following minutes later and WarnerMedia later in the day. The CW and Fox also said they would cancel their live presentations. Disney and the company's streamer, Hulu, also followed suit.
The networks say the changes are being made in light of continuing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. The state of New York has also barred gatherings of more than 500 people for the time being; upfronts typically include audiences of several thousand.
Additionally, the L.A. Screenings — the annual event in which international buyers flock to Southern California to view newly ordered broadcast comedies and dramas — have also been postponed. In a joint statement, reps for major U.S. international TV distributors (Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony, ViacomCBS and Warner Bros.) all decided to explore alternative options to hosting the event in L.A.: “It is out of an abundance of caution, and with the health and well-being of our clients and employees at the forefront, we have collectively decided to not hold L.A. Screenings events this year and will instead explore alternative options in which to showcase our respective upcoming content. While we look forward to hosting our clients at this time-honored industry event, in acknowledgement of — and out of respect for — the travel bans, travel restrictions and evolving public health concerns of our global client base, we believe that not having our clients and executives travel into Los Angeles from various locations around the world is the most responsible course of action. Each major U.S. international TV distributor will be individually communicating its alternative screening plans to clients soon.”
"We'll miss Carnegie Hall and our agency dinners this year, but the health and safety of our clients and the ViacomCBS team comes first," said Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer, ViacomCBS domestic advertising sales. "Our team has been planning for this possibility for weeks, and we have devised a digital showcase to unveil all of the premium content that we're delivering throughout the company, from CBS Television Network and our robust cable portfolio across the Entertainment & Youth and Premium brands. We won't miss a beat in engaging with clients around our unmatched offerings and solutions."
Said Linda Yaccarino, chairman advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal, "At this moment in time, we can embrace a new future that puts our audiences and our partners first. This year's upfront presentation will ensure everyone's safety while allowing us to give fans and marketers a preview of the upcoming season."
"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,” Gerhard Zeiler, chief revenue officer at WarnerMedia and Kirk McDonald, chief business officer, Xandr, said 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."
“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.”
"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 Marianne Gambelli, president ad sales at Fox. "We are reimagining our presentation to engage our clients using a new format that will highlight the quality content the industry expects from Fox."
“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. “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.”
"In light of recent events, and for the safety of our staff, talent, clients and partners, Disney Advertising Sales is reinventing both its Hulu Newfront and TWDC Upfront presentations," a Disney advertising sales spokeswoman said in a statement. "Production plans are already underway to develop two star-studded and innovative streaming events, showcasing the breadth and depth of Disney’s rich portfolio and infrastructure. We are committed to redefining how we bring clients the best storytelling and advertising opportunities. A more detailed announcement of alternative presentation plans will be forthcoming."
Several cable and streaming outlets, including AMC Networks, A+E Networks and YouTube, have canceled or altered their plans for live presentations that were scheduled for March or April. NBC's gathering was set for May 11 and CBS' for May 13. In lieu of the usual presentations in New York, the two networks will televise and stream their presentations, unveiling their 2020-21 schedules and highlighting their content portfolios.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a broad effect on the entertainment industry, ranging from the delay of movie releases to the cancellation or postponement of festivals like South by Southwest and Coachella. Shows that film in front of live audiences are largely going without in-studio viewers, and sports leagues such as the NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer have suspended their seasons. Several series, ranging from CBS' Survivor to Apple's The Morning Show, have also suspended production as a precautionary measure.