Upfront season is already here, as Disney kicks things off later today with its kids upfront at Disney World. It’s also the first of several upfront events involving companies that will be affected by Disney’s pending $52.4 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox.
But because that deal will take 12 to 18 months to close, none of those networks will be altering their upfront strategy or messaging, even with the Disney deal looming.
In this week’s cover story on FX, Joe Marchese, president of advertising revenue for Fox Networks Group, said nothing will change at FX’s upfront event, which is set for March 15 in New York.
“This year’s upfront is going to operate exactly as is,” said Marchese. “We have to operate that way for practical reasons as a business, but also because with these other companies, who knows what the future holds?”
Marchese allowed that FX’s sale to Disney could affect “the tail end” of any upfront buys, but he said those deals “will be honored, no matter how things work out.”
Many of the other networks impacted by the Disney-Fox deal (including ABC, Fox and National Geographic) told Adweek that until the transaction clears regulatory hurdles and closes, they won’t—and can’t—plan for a future in which that has occurred.
“You don’t have a choice but to do that,” said Courteney Monroe, CEO, National Geographic Global Networks. “I have every expectation that the deal will go through, but I don’t work for the Justice Department. And on the off-chance it doesn’t go through, you can’t be in a position where you’ve hedged your bets or pivoted.”
So until National Geographic officially has a new parent company, “the best thing we can do for this brand and business, for our current owners or our new owners, is to create the very best version of National Geographic Television Networks that we can, and so that’s what we’re focused on,” said Monroe.
That’s the message she and Marchese will have for marketers at National Geographic’s upfront this spring. “The good news is, I love the story we have to tell, and we’re doubling down on what we’ve been doing that has propelled the momentum, so I’m excited to get in front of advertisers again,” she said. “It’s business as usual, truly.”
That’s echoing a mantra that originated with Fox Television Group chairman and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman, when they told reporters last month it would be “business as usual” until the transaction closes.
“We have to operate at Fox as if this deal may not go through,” said Newman, who quickly added that “our expectation is that it will go through.” But because Walden and Newman oversee both the 20th Century Fox Television studio, which will be acquired by Disney, and Fox Broadcasting network, which will be among the assets spun off into a company tentatively called New Fox, they are approaching the coming upfront and development season by focusing only on what’s best for next season.
Disney-ABC is taking a similar approach with its own upfront, where its messaging will spotlight the current Disney-ABC portfolio, and not any potential additions to it.
That extends to the development process at ABC. The network has ordered two pilots from 20th Century Fox Television—a Greatest American Hero reboot and a comedy about single parents from New Girl creator Liz Meriwether—but ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said she doesn’t feel any additional pressure to pick up projects from a studio that her parent company may soon own.
“The truth of the matter is, whatever might happen here is at least 12-18 months away,” she said. “That’s a whole cycle for me, so I just have to focus on ordering the best shows for this next coming year, and thinking about nothing else.”