As another upfront season begins, most big media companies involved are in the midst of a mega-deal that has either just closed (Discovery-Scripps), is in progress (Disney-Fox and AT&T-Time Warner) or is possibly in the works (CBS-Viacom), while many of the remaining entities could soon be in play as a response to these other mergers. Amid the chaos, Ovation is proudly waving its flag as an independent outlet with no plans to find a partner—and a network that can offer buyers an alternative to the hoop-jumping required from many of their buys across large portfolios.
Liz Janneman, Ovation’s evp of network strategy, said that the network can “offer multiplatform opportunities,” utilize targeting tactics “with the essence of our upscale consumer” and create content for a brand that “meets the needs of that brand without having the requirement of 50 other things that we want you to do before we give you the one thing you want. We can meet the needs without all of these additional strings attached.”
In the upfront, Ovation will talk with advertisers about sponsorship opportunities around its three big offerings: hit series Versailles, which airs its final season in October; upcoming drama Riviera, which debuts next February; and new OTT service aimed at millennials, Journy. Janneman spoke about Ovation’s upfront plans at a late-afternoon event in New York’s Soho Grand Hotel.
Ovation is looking to build in its success in last year’s upfront, where it saw hefty volume hikes of more than 30 percent as well as CPM (cost per thousand viewers reached) gains in the high single digits. That volume jump was more than triple the percentage gains of even the most successful networks in last year’s upfront.
The centerpiece of Ovation’s upfront pitch remains its signature series Versailles, which is set during the reign of Louis XIV and the construction of the Palace of Versailles. In its first season, the show had the highest viewership in Ovation’s history, drawing 3 million total viewers. Those numbers jumped 9 percent for Season 2, which aired last fall and averaged 3.3 million viewers. Janneman has even higher hopes for Versailles’ third and final season, which will premiere Oct. 6.
After Versailles wraps, Ovation will point audiences to Riviera, a U.K. series about an art curator (Julia Stiles) investigating her billionaire husband’s death. The drama, which streamed last fall on Sundance Now (SundanceTV’s subscription streaming service), will make its linear U.S. debut on Ovation next February.
Last summer, Janneman told Adweek that Ovation does not chase the “crazy millennials,” explaining, “we understand fundamentally that our audience is slightly older, more upscale, educated.”
Instead, Ovation created Journy, a free, ad-supporting OTT service aimed at millennials. The service, which debuted in October, focuses on cultural tourism with a combination of shortform, longform, acquired and original content. Journy is currently available on Roku and Xumo, and Janneman said she hopes it will expand to other platforms.
Ovation has worked to build content around its tentpole shows, acquiring and producing companion programming for Versailles for its return. There’s also a Facebook Live aftershow for the series, which Ovation introduced last season and will bring back for Season 3.
“We had a lot of complementary programming around Versailles, and we wanted to make sure that we created a real immersive experience for the fans,” said David Widerøe, svp of marketing and on-air promotions. He added the Facebook Live aftershow “brings some context to what was happening, and also celebrates some of the fan engagement that was going out there.”
The network plans the same approach to Riviera next year. “Riviera is based on the premise of money laundering from art auctions, so we’ll be doing specials [providing] the best ways to invest in art and financial tips for investments,” said Janneman, who is also planning programming that highlights artists in the South of France, where the series is set.
Versailles’ success, and the programming it has built around the show, gives Ovation “built-in credibility” with marketers as it looks for partnerships on Riviera and Journy, said Janneman.
“The beauty of all of this is that it’s premium programming that I think advertisers are proud to associate with and will have no concerns [with],” she said, adding that “a lot of advertisers” seem to have concerns “with where their ads are running,” as well as the content to which it’s adjacent.
With increased consolidation in the industry, “marketers have fewer and fewer choices and are leveraged even greater, because now you’ll be forced to buy more entities and more producers across the footprint of the conglomerate,” Janneman said. “The requirement spend will increase, and the commitment in terms of integration or customization will probably increase on an out-of-pocket basis.”
Ovation, in contrast, “has become a place that holds tremendous value at smaller scale,” Janneman concluded.