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TV networks battle for the future of live

illustration of an old tv and a hand inserting a quarter at the top
Illustration: Axios/Rebecca Zisser

Despite the onslaught of bad headlines around cord cutting and the death of traditional TV, Madison Avenue hasn't given up on the big cable and broadcast networks just yet.

Driving the news: Despite viewership declines, Variety's Brian Steinberg reports that ad commitments saw an increase of 5.2% to more than $20.7 billion in 2018, citing data from Media Dynamics, a media consultancy.

Yes, but: As Steinberg notes, higher upfront ad commitments for the networks' primetime lineups are a result of higher rates, which networks still have the leverage to demand.

  • The bottom line: Amid an endless number of new on-demand streaming options, TV networks are hoping that ad buyers are willing to cough up big bucks to actually reach viewers in real-time.

The big takeaways so far:

  • NBC: NBC positioned itself as the home for must-see primetime television, touted its renewable of "This is Us" and teased bringing "The Office" to its ad-supported streaming network, which ad chairman Linda Yaccarino said would go live mid-2020.
  • Fox: In its first UpFront since spinning off as standalone company after the Disney merger, Fox is positioning itself as the network that's leaning the most heavily into live sporting events. It's message to Madison Ave: We're smaller, but still mighty.

What's next: Disney will present ESPN and ABC together on Tuesday. WarnerMedia and CBS will present on Wednesday. The CW will present on Thursday.

Go deeper: Upstaging Upfronts, NewFronts rally Madison Avenue