May 12, 2020 - Economy & Business

Networks scramble to salvage fall TV season

An illustration of a person putting a coin into a TV.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

TV execs, eager to court advertisers for their fall programming lineups, are turning to virtual "upfront" presentations to court marketers.

The intrigue: The "upfronts," a series of elaborate advertising pitches and parties that networks use to secure dollars ahead of time for their fall seasons, have been forced to go virtual for the first time this year due to the pandemic.

Driving the news: NBCUniversal ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino led a virtual presentation with her staff yesterday — usually an elaborate affair at Radio City Music Hall.

  • But instead of providing juicy details about the network's fall lineup, Yaccarino and team used the webinar event to assure marketers that "once we know the details about Sunday nights ... you'll be the first to know," referring to the network's Sunday NFL programming deal.

What's next: Unlike NBC, Fox announced a tentative fall schedule on Monday, filled with scripted and reality TV series that it can bank on producing, instead of elaborate shows that it may not be able to pull off during the pandemic.

  • ViacomCBS will host two virtual upfront presentations next week.
  • Disney, the parent company to ABC and ESPN, is hosting smaller presentations with ad buyers.

The bottom line: TV advertising, which was expected to be down around .4% this year, including the Olympics and elections, is now expected to be down nearly 13% this year, per ad buying agency MAGNA.

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