For Warner Bros. Discovery, Flexibility, Content and Culture Are the Keys to Upfront Success

Strong storytelling, huge reach bolster custom planning

One thing about this year’s Upfronts remains consistent: Media buyers and planners are looking to find the right mix of content, planning and data to move audiences and drive outcomes.

At the same time, the 2024-25 Upfronts can feel like uncharted territory. Consumers are stressed. So are budgets. Audiences are fragmented. So are budgets. What’s relevant―to culture and campaigns―seems to shift from minute to minute, and platform to platform.

That’s the environment Warner Bros. Discovery is facing heading into its upfront presentation, where it will be highlighting new solutions built around its premium entertainment, sports, news and lifestyle content on streaming, linear and digital platforms. We sat down with Greg Regis and Marybeth Strobel, both EVPs of advertising sales at Warner Bros. Discovery, for a preview.

Content has been a huge asset for Warner Bros. Discovery. How will that come into play at the Upfronts?

Marybeth Strobel: We’re unmatched in our ability to create content and authentic stories, and in giving clients pathways to follow that content across the range of distribution channels we’ve developed―and continue to develop.

Greg Regis: We like to say, ‘The platform doesn’t make content. Content makes the platform.’ Along with the power of content across Warner Bros. Discovery, we also have the ability to work closely with customers to figure out where their particular brand and their customer archetypes match with a particular piece of our content. Also, how do we leverage both of those to come together to tell a story? A great ad tells a story, too.

What are media buyers looking for when they’re creating their 2024-25 plans, especially when it comes to finding and reaching target audiences?

Strobel: It might sound counterintuitive, but targeting now means flexibility­―moving dollars as needed from upfront to programmatic, platform to platform, quarter to quarter, even week to week. The other aspect of targeting is the demand for immediate, real-time cultural relevance, and giving our clients the access to that across platforms, events and sponsorship types through custom plans.

Regis: Today, it’s not just about targeting per se. It’s about targeting audiences that care, in content situations where they’ll embrace your message, on platforms that make sense for that moment. Customized plans are key to how we empower clients.

Convergence remains a buzzword at the Upfronts. With Warner Bros. Discovery’s content and reach, how does convergence come into play?

Regis: It means giving the advertiser the power of a continuum, from initially grabbing attention to the ‘last mile’ in a plan. It means not just targeting audiences, but building the best places for advertisers to reach audiences and helping nurture the strongest, closest relationships with them. And it means moving past the old model of buying media by the pound into highly customized relationships that are more high-touch and much more effective.

Strobel: To me, it means tying into the conversation around culture, sports or news wherever audiences are living it. Sports is a great example. With Bleacher Report on Max, we’re getting NCAA March Madness, NBA and NHL playoffs in front of more audiences with streaming. Warner Bros. Discovery has the power to combine sponsorship of the game or arena, sponsorship of an athlete, and ads during the game. Or there’s event marketing around a phenomenon like Barbie, where we can work with clients to theme a show around Barbie and then advertise ahead of the ad-supported showing of the movie on Max.

Where does measurement and all the discussion of new currencies fit into this?

Regis: We all want accuracy.  More data and better methodologies are now available, and we all need to embrace it.  But navigating and adapting to new inputs, processes and systems is a change management effort that takes significant coordination across the industry. 

We’re able to work with any map, and we’re open to whoever a customer thinks is the best north star for measurement needs. We just named a new head of ad sales research, data and insights, David Porter. We’re both customer-first and customer-friendly. And we are ready to lock arms with our partners and move the industry forward.

Strobel: Measurement still means what it’s always meant: the ability to capture and measure and target the right audience for our clients. It’s absolutely key, and we’re relentless about data and technology and innovation around effective measurement, even if that means getting out of our comfort zone. At the same time, currency complements measurement. There can be multiple ways to measure a campaign, but the currency determines the value of the media. How valuable is your content to a specific audience? Where and how do you enhance that value for them? Analytics are part of that, but creativity is essential too, which is where we’ve been pushing into the future.

What has you most excited about this year’s upfront?

Strobel: The mix of art and science we bring clients. You know, I’ve focused on data and technology and innovation and advancement for years. I also recognize how this business came about, and the creativity behind it. We’re all here to be creative and reach people in a way that really moves them and connects with what they’re passionate about.

Regis: Seeing how strong our share of voice and share of mind are in the real world, and being able to make clients part of that. Take The White Lotus—I can’t tell you how many times people bring it up in meetings, or even in my personal life. Max is the number-one streamer when it comes to content quality and variety. Our audiences are young and diverse. And it’s home to blockbuster films like Barbie, Aquaman and upcoming titles like Superman and Beetlejuice. Clients can align themselves with these titles. That’s exciting.