TV Upfronts: Hollywood Reporter's Guide to Remote Presentations

With no in-person events and some companies skipping the annual tradition altogether, the 2020 upfronts are vastly different than usual amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images; John Lamparski/Getty Images; Courtesy of Univision
ViacomCBS' Jo Ann Ross, NBCUniversal's Linda Yaccarino, Univision's Steve Mandala

Normally this time of year, networks would be gearing up for in-person presentations to Madison Avenue ad buyers and agencies would be flooding New York restaurants for private parties in advance of the TV industry's annual dog and pony show that was set for May 11-15.

But this is not a normal year.

As the novel coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic in mid-March, media companies quickly canceled their in-person upfront presentations en masse. The client dinners and agency parties that are typically part of the week went by the wayside as well.

Other things will be different, too. Since all but one broadcast pilot was unfinished before the pandemic shut down hundreds of TV and film productions, those networks won't have trailers to show for upcoming series. Pickup decisions may also be made differently this year and be based purely on the strength of backup scripts and the assembled casts. The usual parade of network talent and musical acts, along with jokes from late night comics, will be, at most, a parade of video-conference windows.

As what would have been upfront week approaches, several conglomerates have announced plans for virtual presentations — though as of publication time, only ViacomCBS is planning anything resembling a traditional show. Others are opting, at least in the short term, for conversations with buyers about the state of the business while reserving the option for a more elaborate showcase sometime in the future.

Here is THR's list of "presentations" for the 2020 upfront season. This story will be updated as more information comes in.

NBCUniversal

The company has not yet scheduled an upfront presentation, but on May 11 — the day of its originally scheduled upfront — NBCU will stream an hourlong "state of the marketplace" conversation and question-and-answer session via video conference. It will offer updates on the company's One Platform initiative for selling ad inventory across platforms and "unveil new offerings." Sources stressed that the presentation isn't meant to take the place of an upfront, which may take place at a later date.

Univision

The Spanish-language broadcaster, like NBCU, is holding a virtual event on the day it usually reserves for its upfront (May 12). The network is expected to announce it is reducing commercial loads by 15 percent and lay out a programming strategy highlighting a full slate of original content through the end of the year. Ad sales chief Steve Mandala and other leaders will also share new primary research from Nielsen. A more traditional programming presentation will follow (also remotely) on June 16.

ViacomCBS

The recently merged conglomerate is calling its presentation the "ViacomCBS Upfront @ Home," and it will approximate an in-person presentation, albeit spread over two days (May 18-19). It will feature a series of short digital presentations, with the spotlight on the company's cable properties on May 18 and on CBS — including the unveiling of a fall schedule — CBS All Access and the news and sports divisions on May 19.

Disney

The media giant is not staging a remote upfront but will instead take a "virtual roadshow" to ad agencies and their clients in the week of May 26. The company will present customized, 30-minute showcases featuring Disney talent and executives executives and several video compilations to communicate the Disney proposition for the upcoming year. Other material will highlight specific areas of interest and brand showcases.

WarnerMedia

Like Disney, WarnerMedia is forgoing both live and digital upfronts in favor of ongoing communications through other mechanisms with the ad community. The company would have made its traditional presentation May 13, just two weeks before the launch of its HBO Max streaming platform.

Fox Entertainment

The independent broadcast net is also not planning a traditional upfront this year. The entertainment, news and sports divisions have instead been holding virtual town halls with ad buyers over the past month.

The CW

The network — owned jointly by WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS — is not planning any events, but sources tell THR its sales team has been conducting (virtual) business as usual for the past couple of months. The CW renewed 13 shows in January and gave straight-to-series orders to two others, so it can build a schedule from those pieces whenever production is fully able to resume.

Discovery

The conglomerate, whose lifestyle networks have enjoyed a ratings surge during the pandemic, has launched an ad sales content hub to connect with agencies and clients. It includes consumer insights, branded entertainment resources case studies and other materials.

Bookmark THR.com/upfronts for full coverage.