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With almost all film and TV production shut down, there was enormous uncertainty when original shows would return, and what shows would even be able to film. Many major advertisers pulled out of the market completely, while others held back temporarily.
For ViacomCBS, it was supposed to be a unifying event, its first upfront since Viacom and CBS re-merged into one entity. Instead, it was a two-day virtual affair, with the company’s media assets split between the two presentations.
This year, there will be another chance: The entire company will present together, with the CBS broadcast network, Paramount+, Pluto TV and the Viacom cable channels presenting their fare in one place.
“The whole portfolio, the whole ecosystem has gelled together nicely post-merger,” Ross tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We are all selling together. It has been really well received as well.”
This year will be “hopefully a return to normal,” Ross says, with more traditional pickups and scheduling news, albeit in a “informative, funny, engaging” and “entertaining” format. “We are going to be full-out selling, and talking about how big our footprint is, and what we bring to market in terms of all of our assets in a full-on portfolio across the ViacomCBS ecosystem.”
That means selling Paramount+ and Pluto alongside MTV, Comedy Central and CBS. Ross says this year will mark a turning point for digital sales during the upfront.
“This is the year that people are looking for that incremental reach that digital can provide, a year in which it isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’ with digital, but a must-have with the linear ratings declining this past year,“ Ross says, noting that the expanded reach of digital has been a recurring theme in meetings with clients since January. “I’m not putting linear to bed, linear still has the broadest reach in terms of what we have to offer in broadcast and cable, but when we sit with clients and show them what the incremental reach can be when we shift some of that linear spending to digital, it makes for a great story.”
The company plans to highlight some of its digital and data-driven offerings, such as ViacomCBS EyeQ and Vantage, as well as its InView performance tracking system.
And unlike last year, when the pandemic clouded visibility for networks and marketers, this year is already shaping up to be much stronger.
“I think that a lot of clients that have visibility into next year, and know where their business is going, they are going to be spending their money upfront, because the scatter pricing this year due to supply and demand has been really, really high,” Ross predicts. “The smart money will be upfront.”
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