Disney, WarnerMedia Forgo Upfronts Amid Pandemic

Jimmy Kimmel_Onstage Upfront - Publicity - H 2019
Pawel Kaminski/Walt Disney Television

With TV's upfronts in flux during the novel coronavirus pandemic, two media companies are forgoing the annual tradition entirely.

Disney and WarnerMedia will skip public presentations this month and have direct conversations with ad buyers instead. That means no Jimmy Kimmel lacerating the TV business from the stage at Lincoln Center — or a remote location, given the current state of the world — during Disney's upfront and that WarnerMedia will not have a big public showcase for its HBO Max streaming platform just a couple weeks before its launch.

In lieu of an upfront presentation, Disney will do what it's calling a "virtual roadshow": brief, customized presentations for ad agencies and their clients. The 30-minute video showcase will feature Disney talent and executives executives and several video compilations to communicate the Disney proposition for the upcoming year.

Disney will host its presentations the week of May 26. The presentations will also include short "bonus episodes" highlighting specific areas of interest or brand showcases.

WarnerMedia and ad tech unit Xandr are also skipping both in-person and virtual upfronts in favor of talking directly with the advertising community, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

Thus far, only ViacomCBS has something resembling a traditional upfront on the books. The company will offer up a series of digital presentations on May 18 and 19, with the first day focused on its cable properties and AVOD service Pluto TV and the second spotlighting CBS (including the announcement of a fall schedule) and CBS All Access.

NBCUniversal and Univision will each hold what they're billing as conversations about the state of the business on May 11 and 12, their respective spots in the traditional upfront calendar. Both say there's a possibility for a more formal upfront-style presentation later on. Independent broadcaster Fox Entertainment and The CW — which is jointly owned by WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS — have yet to announce any plans. 

Media companies canceled their upfronts en masse in March, soon after the novel coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic. Hundreds of TV and movie productions also shut down at that time, leaving all but one of almost 60 broadcast network pilots (CBS' Chuck Lorre comedy B Positive) unfinished.