A+E Networks Cancels Live Event, Plans ‘Virtual Upfront’ in Light of Coronavirus

Media company will instead hold briefings for agencies

Instead of its annual upfront event, A+E Networks ad sales chief Peter Olsen will brief agencies via a "virtual upfront." Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Key insight:

A+E Networks has become the latest media company to cancel its in-person upfront event this month due to concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

Instead of the live event, which had been scheduled for March 25 at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, the company will instead make its pitch via virtual agency presentations, beginning the week of March 23. Invitations for the virtual presentations will be sent out to agencies, starting today.

The company is positioning the shift as a “new and innovative way” to conduct an upfront.

“Our sales force looks forward to bringing the A+E Networks’ virtual upfront presentation directly to our clients in a new way,” said Paul Buccieri, A+E Networks’ group president, in a statement. “We’re ready to showcase our portfolio of high-performing mega-brands, recapping some of the amazing success we’ve had in the last year, previewing upcoming shows we’re excited about, introducing our incredible roster of talent, and outlining our plans for 2021 across A&E, History and Lifetime.”

While Buccieri’s statement doesn’t mention the new coronavirus outbreak directly, he did note: “The health, safety and well-being of our clients, colleagues and our industry is our top priority. A+E Networks is leaning-in to our culture of flexibility—one of the business mandates to operate in today’s world, and certainly a necessity underscored in our current environment.”

In its release, the company said: “It is the sincere hope of A+E Networks that everyone stays safe and healthy.”

Buccieri downplayed the switch from a live presentation to a virtual one, explaining that “the upfront is just one part of A+E Networks’ 52-week strategy. Whether in person or in the form of a virtual presentation, the upfront is part of a comprehensive, year-long communications effort between our dedicated sales force and our ad sales customers.”

Last week, Fox News Media and Comcast’s FreeWheel scrapped their upfront events planned for later this month as early upfront plans were upended by coronavirus concerns. CNN did hold its own upfront presentation called CNN Experience last Thursday but the coronavirus was the elephant in the room.

With A+E Networks shifting to a virtual upfront, the only media company that is still scheduled to hold an upfront event this month is AMC Networks. For now, the company is proceeding with its plans for the presentation, set for March 18 at The Shed. (Update: On Monday afternoon, AMC Networks pulled the plug on its upfront event.)

Following that, no other upfront events are scheduled for a month, until NewFronts kicks off the week of April 27. Last Thursday, the IAB said in a statement, “NewFronts is a domestic U.S. event, and there are no government domestic travel advisories, thus at this time we are not planning any changes to the NewFronts agenda.”

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.