2019 – 2020 Upfronts: Networks emphasize stability, scale and content.
By Strategic Audio Video Investment team
Upfront week is a time for networks to look toward the future. As usual, ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, and NBC all shared why they should be on advertisers’ plans for the upcoming season. Whether introducing old or new content, networks highlighted stability, scale, and the importance of content.
Stability – Why advertisers should stick with broadcast networks.
Generally, the number of new shows declined as networks look to build off established successes and attempt to assuage advertiser concerns over continued declines in viewership. With competition from cable, digital and social media, broadcast has to work to win budgets.
Scale was the talk of the town at Upfront. Every network flaunted the massive reach they deliver on a monthly basis, with one network claiming they reach nearly 300 million people every month across platforms. This is an enormous number considering the U.S. population is nearly 330 million people.
The networks stressed their streaming capabilities as well as their linear channels, making sure advertisers were aware that customers of all ages can be reached. In addition, most networks are expanding into additional OTT properties that will give viewers access to more content and give advertisers more opportunities to reach consumers.
Content is king and we do not see that changing.
The networks boasted about premium, valuable, and brand safe programming – what all advertisers want. So, new shows being introduced followed a tried-and-true formula of crime dramas, comedies, and superhero programming.
Inclusion (also a theme of last year’s Upfront’s theme that carried over from last year) was also apparent in new programming looking to showcase traditional and non-traditional American families and relationships.
There was however a rise of “competition reality.” This is programming that is competition based and unscripted. This genre created more ways broadcasters can reach consumers through “live programming” outside of sports and traditional live events, like award shows.
A deeper dive into the networks.
ABC continues to focus on stories about strong women and multi-cultural families. It will hit the ground running with the addition of Mixed-ish, another spin off from the successful shows Black-ish and Grown-ish. Tiffany Haddish will step into the lineup for a new take on Kids Say the Darndest Things.
Finally, ABC appears to be very excited for their new lawyer drama For Life, which premieres in the winter. They also have two female-led dramas premiering in the Fall. Both Stumptown and Emergence will follow comedy blocks to close out the night.
CBS has also made a concerted effort to focus on women with their #SeeHer initiative. Shows like Carol’s Second Act and Bob Hearts Abishola feel like traditional CBS sitcoms, but with the potential to tell a slightly different story. The new drama All Rise may be less of a procedural than other returning shows in the genre. However, with the final season of Madam Secretary looming, All Rise might emerge on the network as the heir-apparent for the smart, female-voiced drama. Evil is the final new series of the fall and the one that feels the most unlike CBS due to a supernatural focus. CBS feels so strongly about Evil that it’s been given the coveted Thursday 10pm (Eastern) timeslot. (C-K’s broadcast media team can’t wait to watch the pilot—with the lights on!)
CW is the only network to have renewed every series from the previous season. Their combination of superhero shows (The Flash and Black Lightning) and buzzy dramas (Riverdale and Into the Dark) still works for the network, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The three programs coming in 2019-20 continue the trend of inclusivity and representation that the network is proud of providing. Batwoman, Nancy Drew, and Katy Keene take characters known from the DC Universe, beloved books, and Archie Comics, respectively, and puts a new and modern twist on the stories. Keeping the full roster of programming gives the network stability and provides more new programming options during the summer which has been an issue for both the network and advertisers.
Fox spent much of their upfront plugging “New Fox” and reaching to the past to plan the future. With Thursday Night Football and the newly acquired WWE Smackdown scheduled on Friday nights, two nights of the week will now be filled with high-profile live sports programming, practically guaranteeing strong ratings across obvious demos. Sunday’s Animation Domination will return with a trio of new animated comedies focusing on family dynamics that will premiere throughout the year (Bless the Harts, Duncanville, and The Great North). Two new dramas (Not Just Me and Prodigal Son) round out the remainder of the nights.
NBC will air the Summer Olympics in 2020. Until then, the broadcaster looks to broaden its reach with more This is Us type of programming. Council of Dads may be the program most likely to be sponsored by Kleenex, but NBC’s pilots aren’t just about making viewers cry. Procedurals Bluff City Law and Lincoln cover courtroom law and law enforcement, respectively, and should work for viewers who enjoy both genres of drama. The fall season opens with two new freshman single camera comedies Perfect Harmony and Sunnyside. These should fit on Thursday’s comedy block with Superstore and The Good Place.
What about the pods?
Networks continued the dialogue regarding new pod lengths, but few changes have been made since the innovations that were screamed about in the 2018 Upfronts. The continuation of “prime pods” or “Fast Breaks” (formerly known as “JAZ” pods) remain on the forefront and networks excitedly presented how they provide increased engagement. That trend will likely continue for years to come. Networks may adopt different forms and different names of ad formats, but the goal will remain constant in keeping viewers engaged with less reason to leave the program. And let’s not forget, they do come at a premium, so this will allow broadcasters to continue to see increases in spend year over year.
So, what does this all mean?
There were very few big changes to schedules and the new programs all felt “on brand” for the networks. Again, this goes back to stability. With OTT knocking at the door, this upfront felt like networks are digging in their heels for the long fight to keep viewers coming back for more. We expect this strategy to pay off as long as the content stays strong.
We believe the networks will be aggressive with their pricing for this 19-20 Upfront season and will see a growth in invested dollars compared to past years. While pricing may not depict realistic value of the inventory, demand will continue to fuel the marketplace and dictate pricing increases. It will be an interesting Upfront season and will ultimately determine how severe the pricing will be for the scatter marketplace.