TV Upfronts

Both ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal Cancel Upfront Events, Will Go Digital-Only

The first two media companies to pull the plug on upfronts week presentations

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Until today, no media companies had scrapped their plans for May’s upfronts week, the biggest week of upfront season, in which buyers and clients from across the country descend on New York for a week of presentations, cocktail parties and meetings about the coming TV season. ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal became the first two media companies to cancel their upfronts as a result of coronavirus, and both will switch to digital-only presentations.

ViacomCBS said today it has scrapped its annual CBS event scheduled for Wednesday, May 13 at Carnegie Hall. The merged network will instead create a video upfront special that will posted to digital platforms that day, unveiling next season’s CBS primetime lineup and more information about CBS Entertainment, CBS News, CBS Sports and CBS All Access. More details about that video will be announced later.

The company, which is entering its first upfront following the CBS-Viacom merger in December, has also canceled the upfront agency dinners planned for March and April. Those meetings will also be replaced by a digital-only presentation.

“We’ll miss Carnegie Hall and our agency dinners this year, but the health and safety of our clients and the ViacomCBS team comes first,” said Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer, ViacomCBS domestic advertising sales, in a statement. “Our team has been planning for this possibility for weeks, and we have devised a digital showcase to unveil all of the premium content that we’re delivering throughout the company, from CBS television network and our robust cable portfolio across the entertainment and youth and premium brands. We won’t miss a beat in engaging with clients around our unmatched offerings and solutions.”

A source says the company plans to return to its usual upfront strategy in 2021.

“CBS has a very good story to tell, and this year we need a unique way to tell it,” said CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl in a statement. “We’re confident that this alternate format for this year can deliver what we’ve come to expect from a CBS Upfront–entertainment, stars, strategy and the first look at our new primetime series.”

Moments after ViacomCBS’ announcement, NBCUniversal said it is also canceling its upfront event, scheduled for May 11 at Radio City Music Hall. It will also televise and stream a presentation, featuring talent from across its portfolio and platform, and will preview new programming announcements, trailers and more, from entertainment to sports to news.

NBCU Chairman of Advertising & Partnerships Linda Yaccarino at 2019’s upfront.

“At this moment in time, we can embrace a new future that puts our audiences and our partners first. This year’s upfront presentation will ensure everyone’s safety, while allowing us to give fans and marketers a preview of the upcoming season,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships, NBCUniversal, in a statement.

Previously, almost every March upfront event was canceled due to concerns over the epidemic-turned-pandemic, including the presentations from AMC Networks and A+E Networks. Only CNN was able to hold its upfront event, CNN Experience, but the coronavirus was the elephant in the room.

Yesterday, the Interactive Advertising Bureau announced a streaming option for next month’s NewFronts events, with several presenters already indicating they will move to digital-only presentations, including YouTube, Meredith and Twitter. Vudu, meanwhile, has dropped out of the NewFronts entirely.