The broadcast networks’ (and some interlopers’) Upfront Week’s dog-and-pony shows are over – one talking dog but, so far as we know, no pony-starring vehicles later. Here’s a look at some of the top trends we noticed across the annual orgy of show-pitching, from which broadcast nets are expected to emerge with $8B-10B in upfront sales:
In much the same way Thackeray is set to have jumped out of bed in the middle of the night and run around screaming “Eureka!” or words to that effect when he thought of naming his latest novel Vanity Fair, so too many TV network execs have reacted when they came up with this year’s can’t-miss way to really wow media buyers at Upfront Week. They’d put on a musical number tied to that smash Broadway musical about the Founding Father most famous for being killed in a duel by a White House candidate he’d called a “profligate” and “voluptuary in the extreme,” noting the candidate kept changing his positions for personal gain.
Their exuberance might have been diminished a little by the discovery, starting Monday, that they were not alone in thinking highly of the idea. CBS, the last of the major broadcasters to present a Hamilton musical number this week, must have had something of a shock when NBC kicked off the week with its late-night star Jimmy Fallon dressed as Hamilton, singing about Upfront Week as that time “when networks lie through their teeth.”
CBS’ planners’ moods cannot have been improved upon discovering, the next day, that ESPN and ABC had Hamilton musical bits in their presentations as well. By Wednesday, when CBS put on its dog-and-pony show at Carnegie Hall, it could only express the modest hope its Hamilton number — in which late-night star James Corden and a cast of costumed singers invoked advertisers to cough up their Hamiltons — would be considered the Best of the Hamilton Upfront numbers.
“Anyone else noticing a Hamilton theme this week?” CBS Corp Chairman Leslie Moonves said as he took the stage after Corden’s well-received number. “Ours is the best,” he declared, as if daring anyone in the audience to disagree.
Fox, the only big broadcaster to present Hamilton-free, had two musical numbers, plugging Lee Daniels’ Empire and fall drama Star. “How could we possibly top that?” Fox TV Group co-chair/CEO Gary Newman declared, as if daring anyone in the audience to respond, “Hamilton!”
EVERYONE’S A WINNER
NBC kicked off Upfront Week bright and early Monday morning, making various “We’re No. 1” claims.
CBS did not even wait until NBC’s presentation wrapped to begin contacting media at the event, noting, “NBC’s #1 claims are all about sports and more specifically, are all about the NFL. Removing just [CBS’s broadcast of Super Bowl 50] but including NBC Sunday Night Football for 2015-16 averages is BS. However, if you remove all NFL telecasts from all networks, we are #1, beating NBC by one-tenth in A18-49, 19 vs. 1.8.”)
Next day, ABC boasted it ranked No. 1 during the season in Nielsen’s non-sports adult 18-49 averages. ABC boasted it delivered seven of the Top 20 entertainment series on broadcast TV, placing four of the Top 10 with three of the Top 5 dramas, and dominated among upscale viewers with a network-leading eight of the season’s 20 highest-rated broadcast entertainment series among adults 18-49 in homes earning $100k+ annual income. “Horseradish,” responded other Upfront Week presenters, calling ABC’s claims pretty rich, given that the network likes to tout its big NBA Finals boosts but thinks media buyers should skip ABC’s lowest-rated night of the week (Saturday college football) and other networks’ NFL ratings pops.
And so, the week wore on.
YOU SAY “IP,” I SAY RETRO
All the reboots, remakes and re-imaginings unveiled gave the week a decidedly nostalgic feel, especially when introduced by all those late-night stars dressed as Alexander Hamilton.
CBS, home of exhumed Hawaii Five-O and The Odd Couple, showed clips of its MacGyver remake, and a virtual King of Queens reboot (Kevin James, back in his old Monday time slot, plays blue-collar guy with hot wife, etc.)
Fox explained why media buyers should put their money on exhumed Lethal Weapon and The Exorcist, the latter of which had some media buyers gasping.
ABC showed them a glimpse of its look at why the Montagues can’t get along with the Capulets, which Williams Shakespeare took a whack at in the 16th century and this time is based on a book Still Star-Crossed. ABC also gave media buyers a peek at its effort to bring H. G. Wells into this century to track 19th century serial killer Jack the Ripper, in a remake of the late-’70s movie Time After Time (making this series a double scoop of retro).
MAKE ‘THE FEELING’ STOP!
NBCU blasted Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” throughout Radio City Music Hall as soon as its presentation ended and people began to leave. Makes sense, what with NBCU parent Comcast having just bought DreamWorks Animation and Timberlake having recorded the tune for the soundtrack to DWA’s upcoming film Trolls.
But other networks used the country’s current No. 1 single too, in clip packages and such. By the end of the week, media buyers had a case of “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” sensory overload
DIGITAL SCHMIDGITAL (aka Network TV’s Back, Baby!)
“It’s been a long week with a lot of jargon,” CBS Network Sales President Jo Anne Ross told media buyers Wednesday. “So out of respect for your intellect, and your time, we’re only going to give you one acronym: CBS. The C stands for ‘cut,’ and the BS is what you’ve already heard enough of this week.” Reach and targeting — words tossed around a lot all week – “are meaningless without the premium content that attracts the audiences you want,” she scolded.
“The digital metrics game is rigged,” warned Fox ad sales honcho Toby Byrne. “Impressions for subprime video can’t match the reach of premium television.” He noted that millennials spend about 80 percent of their content-watching time doing so via television.
“Everyone is now coming to the same conclusion that we came to a long time ago: Broadcast television remains the single best and most effective medium for advertising,” crowed CBS Corp CEO Moonves. Predictions dollars would move to digital, “is obviously not happening,” because “digital advertising lacks accuracy and credibility. As a result, there is a clear shift in advertising back to network television.”
Scoffed NBCU’s ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino: “The average American spends seven times as many hours watching television as they do on Facebook and 15 times more hours on television than they do watching YouTube.”
Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood also chimed in, saying, “TV works and great TV works greatly. It delivers more value than anything else by far.”
ABC’s Upfront Secret Weapon, Jimmy Kimmel, summed it up best: “Do Crackle and Vox really need to have upfronts? These aren’t networks – they’re sound effects.”