In an era when advertisers can buy digital inventory at any time they wish, does the media industry still need an “upfront” sales session? Warner Bros. Discovery believes it does.
The media conglomerate said Thursday that it plans to hold a presentation for advertisers at 10 a.m. eastern on May 15 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, where it will call attention to media brands such as Max, Food Network, CNN, HGTV, TBS, Discovery, TLC, Bleacher Report, and Discovery+. The ranks look to be heavier with streaming properties than traditional linear ones.
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“Warner Bros. Discovery has the strongest portfolio of networks, platforms, and brands in the business, delivering unparalleled scale and reach. Our groundbreaking technology provides standout, industry-leading opportunities to connect our clients with the tens of millions of valuable viewers who watch, stream and engage with our content daily, “ said Jon Steinlauf, Warner Bros. Discovery’s Chief U.S. Advertising Sales Officer in statement. He added: At this year’s Upfront presentation, we are incredibly excited to showcase our innovative advanced advertising solutions, as well as the Max streaming portfolio, which places brands alongside our award-winning series, films, live sports and breaking news.”
Warner and its competitive set faced onerous circumstances in 2023’s upfront market, where U.S. TV companies try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory. Madison Avenue pulled hundreds of millions of dollars out of primetime TV and sent them to streaming venues in the industry’s recently completed “upfront” market, the latest sign that one of the media sector’s most stable mediums is in an era of severe flux.
Ad commitments for primetime broadcast TV fell 3% in 2023, to $9.595 billion, compared with $9.91 billion in last year’s market, according to Media Dynamics Inc., an advertising consultancy that tracks the upfront, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for their next programming cycle. Cable TV saw even worse erosion, with advertisers committing $9.52 billion for primetime TV, down 7% compared to the $10.23 billion in commitments secured last year.
Even though the outlook for linear ad spending remains foggy, Warner will still bet on the importance of a physical presentation to help strike a connection with advertisers when some of its competitive set no longer do. Paramount Global, once one of the biggest backers of upfront theatricality, chose last year to hold bespoke meetings with various media buying agencies, rather than putting up a spectacle in Carnegie Hall, which had been a signature tactic of its predecessor company, CBS Corp.
Executives are no doubt hoping for stronger advertising demand. Warner and its competitors have grappled with a slackening in ad dollars being committed to linear TV, particularly as more media companies launch ad-supported streaming products and as Madison Avenue has worried about the threat of a prolonged economic downturn. There is some hope from media buyers that demand may strengthen after the first quarter of 2024.
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