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TV upfronts return with focus on sports and streaming

Jimmy Fallon at NBCU's 2024 upfront

Jimmy Fallon dances onstage during NBCU's 2024 upfront at Radio City Music Hall. Photo: Charles Sykes/NBCUniversal via Getty Images.

NBCUniversal, Canela Media and Fox kicked off a week of upfront presentations in New York that focused heavily on live sports and streaming.

Why it matters: Legacy media companies are facing a challenging TV advertising market as the cable bundle dwindles.

Here were our takeaways from Monday's presentations:

Scripted content takes a back seat

  • Promoting upcoming fall premieres used to be the upfronts' main event, but there was more talk of sports, news and holiday specials than new scripted fare — highlighting just how different the legacy TV business is in the streaming era.
  • NBCU's biggest trailer was not even for a TV show but instead for the upcoming "Wicked" movie.
  • Fox leaned heavily on its sports and unscripted shows, and its upfront served as Tom Brady's unofficial debut for the network.
  • Canela, which focuses on serving U.S. Hispanics, isn't burdened by linear. But like the traditional networks, Canela highlighted its unscripted programming such as its reality series "Secretos de Villanas," its daily newscast and an interview special with soccer star Lionel Messi.

Streaming rules

  • Streaming has taken over upfronts week — a domain long held by broadcast TV — and that extended to legacy TV.
  • Peacock was front and center during NBCU while Fox brought out Tubi CEO Anjali Sud early on to tout the free streaming service's 60% audience growth since last year.
  • "Late Night" host Seth Meyers poked fun at streamers like Amazon and Netflix for now courting advertisers: "Remember when streamers told you, 'We're going to do television a new way, so I'm afraid we won't be needing your little commercials anymore.' ... Cut to a few years later, every episode of 'Shōgun' is interrupted by, 'Whopper, Whopper, Double Whopper.'"
  • Canela emphasized the strength of its streaming product across connected TV, web and mobile, particularly its willingness to introduce new ad formats and functions. "Our competitive advantage is speed and innovation," CTO Peter González said.

One fun thing: With the Hollywood strikes in the rearview mirror, A-list stars were back out in full force this year.

  • Jimmy Fallon, Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg graced NBC's stage at Radio City Music Hall, while Jamie Foxx, Will Arnett and Jon Hamm were just some of the celebrities at the Hammerstein Ballroom for Fox.
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