Upfronts week 2022 focused so heavily on AdTech, CTV and streaming content that some attendees thought it felt like a continuation of this year’s NewFronts. That may not be welcome news for fans of the traditional linear TV landscape, but it’s good news for brands. The future of TV is here and it presents a wealth of new opportunities to marketers. Here’s what we heard from three major media conglomerates: Disney, NBCU and Warner Bros. Discovery.
Disney's presentation promoted the company’s “Unrivaled” storytelling prowess and diverse talent across an expansive portfolio of brands including Disney+, ABC, ESPN and Hulu. Clearly aware of dramatic disruption in the industry as media consumption habits evolve, the company is increasingly focused on streaming services and expanding its original content production to make the most of its robust reach across linear TV networks, digital channels and streaming services.
Earlier this week Disney+ detailed plans to launch a low cost subscription plan inclusive of advertisements, which Jacob Weithorn, Associate Director of Video Investment & Strategy at Kepler, thinks should put marketers “on the lookout for new creative ad formats and true cross-portfolio data-centric activations.”
Live sports remains the pivotal driver of linear TV viewership, and Disney is doubling down on football. Disney’s latest NFL package added an additional Divisional playoff game and two future airings of the big game. Disney also added commentators Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, and will extend beyond the NFL with XFL rights in 2023.
“Disney’s Upfront was light on performance and product detail, especially regarding Disney+ ads,” says Kevin Cahn, head of Kepler’s Video Center of Excellence. “The company will truly arrive at the intersection of storytelling, innovation and data once the Disney+ offering matures.”
NBCU’s direct sales pitch, which was concise by design, focused on streaming, data, live events and their One Platform approach. NBCU was quick to claim Peacock is now the fastest growing streaming platform, and the platform often overshadowed the company’s linear TV offerings, signaling a seismic shift since NBCU’s last Upfront in 2019. NBCU also claimed that its first party data solution, NBC Unified, is as robust as the datasets offered by Silicon Valley rivals
It’s clear NBCU sees Peacock as its growth engine and the company touted its decision to expand Peacock’s movie content, including theatrical releases. Acknowledging that ad-supported streaming is the future, NBCU also drew a distinction with companies treating ad-supported tiers as, “an extension or a pivot.”
“It wasn’t surprising to see content take center stage after NBCU focused on product during earlier developer and NewFront events,” says Cahn. “The way NBCU is now positioning that content, with a clear streaming and data-centric focus, hints at the nature of this year’s Upfront negotiations.”
The breadth and increasing flexibility of NBCU’s portfolio and One Platform makes it attractive to marketers of varying shapes and sizes. Brands can now engage with a wide range of inventory and events across linear and ad-supported streaming platforms. NBCUnified’s 200M U.S. consumer IDs, the company’s 60+ ad products, and its increasing focus on self-serve activation will more closely align with the evolving needs of brands.
Warner Bros. Discovery
Warner Bros. Discovery, fresh off April’s $43 billion merger, made a concerted effort to establish Warner Bros. Discovery as an alternative to broadcast’s dwindling scale and laid out its strategy to grow HBO Max and Discovery+ without sacrificing linear reach.
Warner Bros. Discovery claimed its combined reach exceeds that of the four broadcast networks combined, partly due to its strong nightly linear TV share, which is buoyed by live sports. JB Perrette, head of global streaming, also hinted HBO Max and Discovery+ will eventually be combined into one service.
With its light ad loads and the head start it has on Disney+ and Netflix, Warner Bros. Discovery is leaning further into streaming ads and will offer pricing incentives to linear clients who move to broader 18+ demos, though this incentive will only be attractive to advertisers who are comfortable with very broad targeting.
“Warner Bros. Discovery hammered home its enhanced ability to deliver one of TV’s most important value propositions: mass reach,” says Cahn. “The messaging discipline was admirable, but one has to wonder if Warner Bros. Discovery placed too much emphasis on its linear business.”
Discovery’s Premiere product, which allows advertisers to cherry-pick from each network’s top-rated linear originals, will expand to the full combined portfolio, made more compelling by the additional reach and inclusion of live sports inventory. The company also reminded advertisers of its recent decision to (re)join OpenAP, a welcome announcement that will give Kepler teams the opportunity to further extend Data-Driven Linear (DDL) audience segments, and apply consistent measurement across the marketplace.