TV Upfront Aftermath: Media Buyers Say Presentations Do Not Influence Investment

Network-touted data is more hype than substance: "I don't know if I'm reaching three people or the same person three times."
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Kevin Reilly at WarnerMedia's upfront in New York

Media buyers long ago began following the eyeballs, whether or not Nielsen can adequately count all the eyeballs on all the platforms. So the promises emanating from the Manhattan theaters (Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall) about proprietary data rang somewhat hollow for buyers who still do not have an industry-accepted metric for digital viewing. And many media-buying firms likely have more reliable data sets than those being touted from some of the stages.

“We all have our own set of data. We need commonality,” said Gibbs Haljun, total investment lead at Mindshare U.S. “Say what you want about Nielsen from a measurement standpoint, the reality is it is a common currency or measurement platform that is used across linear viewing. When I have data that is not common — Disney has data, NBCU has data — unless I can blend that all together, it all operates in a vacuum. And that doesn’t help me differentiate if I’m reaching three people or the same person three times.” 

Multiple media buyers who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter expressed exasperation at the bloated length of many of the presentations. Disney’s premiere multi-network presentation —  which clocked in at more than two hours — was particularly irksome. (WarnerMedia's first official upfront clocked in at a breezy 75 minutes. But the company has had more practice with the multi-net presentation.) Watching CBS executives run through the new season's night-by-night schedule — complete with slides — felt particularly dated amid this year’s acceleration of digital viewing, whether it is SVOD, AVOD or ad-supported VOD.

Buyers also expressed a collective eye roll at the emphasis on total viewers, which is a metric CBS made much of during its presentation. But even the so-called sweet-spot of viewers 18-49 has become an antiquated benchmark. “Most people don’t care about 18-49,” said one buyer who wished to remain anonymous to avoid influencing upcoming negotiations. “I care about moms in the market for a minivan on Tuesdays in the snow.” 

And while some media buyers appreciated the upfront presentations more than others, they all agreed that the dog-and-pony show, while purportedly aimed at them, is geared more toward internal stakeholders such as affiliates or stockholders. It's probably why, for all of the pageantry and A-list stars, the presentations have little influence on where they put their client's money.

"We’ve seen the pilots. We've had ongoing conversations [with networks]," added Haljun. "If you’re waiting until upfront week to have those conversations, you’re not going to be able to react fast enough. The reality is the upfront week is not going to make or break any of our investment decisions."

See what's new, renewed and canceled at every network with THR's scorecards for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW. For complete upfronts coverage, head to THR.com/upfronts.