When Disney first canceled its upfront presentation in March, the company said it planned to hold a “star-studded and innovative streaming event” in place of its usual Lincoln Center gala, which had been set for May 12. But as has been the case with everything else during the pandemic, those plans have now completely changed.
Instead of a single presentation, Disney Advertising Sales will hold an upfront roadshow, presenting seven separate streamed events, each one “tailored and customized to every holding company and their clients,” said Rita Ferro, president of advertising sales.
The presentations—which Ferro said will last about 45 minutes—will include Disney TV content execs, talent from across the portfolio and a number of sizzle reels to share Disney’s upfront messaging and its plans for the coming year.
The company changed course on its upfront plans after several discussions with clients and agencies during the past month, who were “really debating about whether were they ready to do an upfront now” during the pandemic, said Ferro. While some are ready to go to market soon, others are still reeling from Covid-19 and want to move to a calendar year upfront, which is why this year’s marketplace will operate on a staggered timetable.
“After all of those conversations across the marketplace, I thought it would be a little tone deaf for us to say, ‘OK, we’re going to stay with the May 12 slot and do a livestream presentation in the same way we had planned to,’” Ferro said. Instead, “we want to be sensitive to what our clients are saying and be a little bit more personal.”
The seven events—six for holding companies, and one for smaller agencies, PR agencies and direct client relationships—will be held during the weeks of May 25 and June 1.
While the presentations will be focused on the individual holding companies, they will touch on the entire Disney TV portfolio, including broadcast, cable and Hulu.
Ferro plans to focus on how Disney has worked with its partners during the pandemic, and how several of the innovations rolled out during the last two months, including the virtual NFL Draft, show “what we learned that we now can apply to how we think about current sports going forward in a world where, whether or not there are fans in the stands, you can create immersive experiences.”
In addition to Ferro, the presentations will include many of the TV portfolio’s top execs, including ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke, Hulu’s svp of originals Craig Erwich and ABC News president James Goldston, talking about their brands or platforms, as well as “some special guests,” said Ferro. Given that the company said it plans to include some Disney upfront traditions, while a spokesperson would not comment on specific attendees, it’s very likely that Jimmy Kimmel will deliver some version of his annual upfront roast.
Today’s upfront news follows Disney’s bleak earnings release on Tuesday afternoon, during which the company said it took a $1.4 billion income hit in the last quarter due to Covid-19, and is experiencing a “significant impact” on ad sales, primarily due to the lack of live sporting events and a pullback from advertisers in categories like movie studios, retail, domestic automotive and travel.
That uncertainty among so many categories is another reason that this year’s upfront season “will be very different than it has been in previous years. We will move when clients are ready to move,” said Ferro.
“If there are agencies who are ready to move in the next couple of weeks, then we will be ready to do that, but we’re also giving flexibility and understanding that there are some that are going to have to move later given the portfolio of clients that they have. We’ll work with them throughout that process.”
Disney’s upfront format switch comes a few weeks after Bob Iger, who recently transitioned from Disney CEO to chairman, told The New York Times that he saw the pandemic as an opportunity to permanently change how the company operates, including potentially ending expensive practices like the annual upfront event.
While Ferro said “there’s no replacement for the face time together with clients” offered by the upfront, she noted that if this new upfront format “winds up working better, we may stick to this format going forward. … This could become a new normal for us.”
Disney is only the second upfronts week presenter to schedule an official replacement for its canceled event, following ViacomCBS’ announcement on Tuesday that it will be holding a pair of virtual presentations over two days, May 18-19.
NBCUniversal and Univision are holding livestreamed events for advertisers next week during the same time they would have held their upfronts week events (the morning of May 11 for NBCU, and the afternoon of May 12 for Univision), but both companies stressed that the events are not replacements for their original upfront presentations, and will instead be more focused on the current state of the marketplace.
In addition to participating in the Disney upfront roadshow, Hulu will also be presenting during the postponed NewFronts, which will take place the week of June 22.