In Its First Full Upfront as WarnerMedia, Company Secures Double-Digit CPM Gains

Upcoming streaming service was not part of this year’s negotiations

WarnerMedia ad sales chief Donna Speciale doubled her audience-based upfront revenue this year.
WarnerMedia

In its first full upfront season since AT&T acquired it last summer and gave it a new moniker, WarnerMedia has finished its negotiations, securing double-digit CPM (cost per thousand viewers reached) gains, according to a person familiar with negotiations.

WarnerMedia collaborated with Xandr, AT&T’s advertising and analytics unit, on some upfront deals, as ad sales chief Donna Speciale explained to Adweek in May: “We are partnering with Xandr where clients and holding companies want us to, but we’re going on a client-by-client or holding company-by-holding company basis. It’s not a force fit, but if anybody wants us to bring the two together and have a holistic conversation, we are doing that.”

The company’s upcoming streaming service, which will launch in beta later this year and was spotlighted at May’s upfront presentation, was not included in this year’s negotiations.

WarnerMedia’s audience-targeting and performance-based guarantee offerings were key upfront priorities, Speciale told Adweek in May, and the company doubled last year’s upfront spend in audience-based buys.

“Obviously, we’re still in the early stages of all this and we’ve been beta-ing, but if we can get this right, the attribution model and the quicker optimization is going to be key for us in 2020, which I think is crucial,” she said. “We have been able to prove that television now can be just as targeted and create their ROI [return on investment] just like digital. Clients are thrilled about that, because we intuitively all knew that television did it, but we could never prove it.  Now we have proof points, and that’s my priority.”

The company also secured double-digit increases in VOD, digital and OTT spend this year.

WarnerMedia crossed the upfront finish line a month earlier than last year, when the company didn’t confirm that negotiations had wrapped until Aug. 2. During those talks, the company saw double-digit CPM gains and secured volume increases in the mid-single digits.

In March, ahead of this year’s upfront talks, AT&T rolled out a major WarnerMedia restructuring that phased out the Turner brand and moved Donna Speciale—now president of ad sales for WarnerMedia—and her team into the WarnerMedia Affiliates and Advertising Sales Group, led by WarnerMedia chief revenue officer Gerhard Zeiler.

While her company’s name and owner has changed, Speciale’s upfront priorities have not, she told Adweek in May.

During May’s upfront presentation, WarnerMedia touted a bigger-than-ever programming portfolio, new data-driven capabilities and the “new company” it is hoping to evolve into.

At that event, Kevin Reilly—president of TBS, TNT and now truTV as well as chief content officer, direct-to-consumer—said that the TNT, TBS and truTV networks would blur their brands in the coming year. “TBS, TNT and truTV are stronger if we’re less bound by a single brand position or genre,” he said.

Comedy-centric TBS will air new drama series Snowpiercer (based on the graphic novel La Transperceneige and the 2013 film), while the TNT will broadcast a pair of new live franchises: All Elite Wrestling and Chase the Cure Live, a live medical-mystery series hosted by Ann Curry (the latter series will be simulcast on TBS).

However, buyers later told Adweek that Speciale’s pitch was upstaged by a mouse scurrying around the Hulu Theater at MSG—a disturbance that elicited screams and sent more than one creeped-out client fleeing the auditorium mid-presentation. The unexpected upfront visitor disrupted the event, but not negotiations.

Speaking to Adweek at Cannes Lions, Speciale said “we are in the heart of” upfront talks and noted that the upcoming WarnerMedia streaming service—which was not a major part of these year’s talks—will be a key focus of next year’s upfront.

Several other networks and media companies have already completed their upfront business, including The CW, CBS and Crown Media Family Networks, which owns Hallmark Channel.

 

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