If there’s anything Fox Corp. wanted advertisers to take away from its upfronts presentation Monday afternoon, it’s that smaller—and less complicated—is better.
During its upfronts event, the company’s first since it was officially spun of from 21st Century Fox following Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of most Fox assets in March, company executives, show hosts and actors and actresses from its programming touted Fox’s slate of new programming and its opportunities for advertisers. The resounding message was that the new version of Fox is just as strong as it’s ever been, only leaner and better for advertising.
“We’ve been given the ultra-rare opportunity to recreate an entertainment company from the ground up: a company of today, for tomorrow,” Charlie Collier, Fox Entertainment’s newly minted CEO, told a packed auditorium at New York’s Beacon Theater. “We’re proudly ad-friendly, and we’re proudly independent.”
Marianne Gambelli, who was tapped to head up Fox Corp.’s ad sales in October, put it even more directly.
“While our competition is getting more complicated, we are laser-focused on you,” Gambelli, who emphasized the same message in a recent interview with Adweek, said onstage. “We’re not going to waste time selling you things you don’t want to buy.”
The new Fox Corp., which Collier repeatedly described as being like a “startup,” is emphasizing its three verticals of content, which include entertainment, sports and news, as separate verticals with crossover opportunities for advertisers.
Gambelli is rolling out several new ad products, including “fast breaks,” which she described as an iteration of Fox’s JAZ pods (just the A and Z positions in an ad break) that mean shorter breaks and a wider availability.
Also on the way: “prediction pods,” which Gambelli said are aimed at keeping viewers engaged over commercial breaks by “leveraging social conversation around our shows”; “future now,” where advertisers can sponsor early access to future episodes; and “Absolute As,” offering exclusive ownership of the pre-roll ad position on Fox’s most popular streaming shows.
Gambelli said Fox Corp. was working on expanding its “addressable footprint” and is bringing Fox News and Fox Business under OpenAP and AIM for better targeting options. Other than that, mentions of Fox News and Fox Business, whose ad-sales are unified with the rest of Fox Corp. following the spinoff, were nearly nonexistent. At least part of that lack of attention could be due to the fact that the company hosted a Fox News-centric upfront in March.
Instead, today’s upfront, which clocked in at just under an hour and a half, bounced between Fox Sports and Fox’s entertainment programming, with plenty of stars, sizzle reels and clips from Fox’s upcoming programming slate. Collier, serving as the emcee of the presentation, introduced and bantered with all of Fox’s guests onstage throughout the presentation, and presenters were asked to pitch their programs in five words or less. (Only some of them stuck to that request.)
On the entertainment side, Fox touted its semi-revival of Beverly Hills 90210, BH90210, with a promotional video nodding to the iconic bars of the program’s theme song and onstage appearances from several original cast members, who will be appearing in the limited series, airing this summer.
The network also brought out stars for its new slate of original series, including Tom Payne and Michael Sheen of the upcoming crime procedural Prodigal Son, Brittany Snow of the family drama Not Just Me, Stephen Dorff of the cop drama Deputy, Kim Cattrall for the soap Filthy Rich and Jason Biggs from the sitcom Outmatched.
Most of the new programming elicited polite applause from the audience, but not all of them drew the intended response. Next, a thriller series centered on artificial intelligence going rogue, prompted a few chuckles and at least one hearty laugh from some audience members when, in a teaser trailer for the show, an Alexa-like home speaker was revealed to be evil.
Fox is also bringing back an animation-centric block of programming on Sunday nights, dubbed Animation Domination. To that end, the network has three new animated series, two of which comedian Amy Poehler is involved in.
And Fox is also investing in even more reality television, including its runaway hit The Masked Singer, which Fox this morning announced would return for Season 2 in the fall, with Season 3 premiering after February’s Super Bowl LIV broadcast.
Perhaps the most exciting moment of the presentation was at the very end, when a mystery Masked Singer contestant, dubbed “the deer” and described as a friend of Madison Avenue, performed “Luck, Be a Lady” in front of the program’s celebrity judges on stage. Attendees were instructed to direct message Fox their guesses for the singer’s identity before the performance ended for a chance to win Super Bowl tickets. The singer was soon after revealed as legendary New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath; it was unclear as of press time whether those Super Bowl tickets had been claimed.
Speaking of sports, Fox touted its programming lineup with its pre- and postgame analysts, including Fox College Football, Fox NFL Sunday and WWE’s SmackDown Live, which will air on Friday nights beginning Oct. 4. Wrestling legends John Cena and Ronda Rousey came on stage to pitch Smackdown as vertical flames shot into the air, warming the faces of even the audience members sitting in the far reaches of the theater. And halfway through the presentation, Fox Sports Erin Andrews cornered Collier backstage for a mock halftime interview.
“How do you plan on getting this back on track?” she deadpanned, before thrusting the microphone toward Collier. “We’re just going to take it one cliché at a time,” he promised.
The network also pitched the World Series, which will be at Fox for the next 10 years. That announcement, plus a few well-timed references to the Yankees and the Mets, prompted bursts of applause from the audience.
The sports presentations, though, dragged on thanks to the sports hosts, who were even less eager to stick to the five-words directive than the other onstage guests.
At one point, Fox Sports analyst Terry Bradshaw complained that “Alan Thicke” and “that little short guy from Japan” voted him off The Masked Singer, on which he was briefly a contestant earlier this year. The inappropriate (and also inaccurate) remark was a reference to Masked Singer judges Robin Thicke (the late Alan’s son) and Detroit-born Korean-American Ken Jeong.