What We Learned About TV During Its Biggest Week

Stocks plunged and Covid cases soared.

Who’s ready to buy some ads?

For the first time in three years, Advance — the exhibition the media industry puts on for advertisers to persuade them to pay for commercial time — takes place live in Manhattan. Over the past few days, thousands of ad buyers have thronged venerable New York institutions such as Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and Radio City Music Hall. on the phone? Tens of billions of ad revenue.

Here are some of the main takeaways from this week:

In 2019, advertisers spent at least 10 percent of their budget on streaming. This year, that budget has jumped to nearly 50 percent, several media buyers said in interviews.

Presentation reflects change. With the exception of a short two-minute video that focuses on CBS’s hour-by-hour fall schedule, media executives barely mention their network’s prime time lineup. At the start of Disney, most of the trailers and teasers were dedicated to movies and series for Hulu and Disney+, the flagship streaming service, which will introduce ads later this year.

“This is my first performance,” Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, said from Disney’s early stages before introducing the trailer for “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” a new comedy that will premiere on Disney+ this summer.

It’s a consistent theme throughout the week, with previews of upcoming shows and movies on Peacock, Paramount+, HBO Max, and Discovery+ all gaining significant airtime. The ad-supported free streaming services Tubi (owned by Fox) and Pluto (owned by Paramount) are also prominently discussed.

“Typically, the down payment is for TV networks,” said Allan Thygesen, who handles more than $100 billion for Google’s North and South American advertising business. “But today, because of the tremendous changes we have seen in the media industry, this is not what your parents asked for.”

Netflix aims to introduce advertising by the end of the year at a time of declining subscribers. Rival executives used that as an opportunity this week to say why their own business is a better destination for advertising.

“We have been committed to the ad-supported video business from the very first moment in our company’s history,” said Jeff Shell, chief executive of NBCUniversal, of Radio City Music Hall. “This is not an extension of our core business, or pivot. This is our core business.”

Linda Yaccarino, global head of advertising at NBCUniversal, takes a similar note, saying that to some of their rivals, “advertising can seem like an afterthought — or even worse, a new idea for a revenue stream. But not here.”

On Fox’s face, Eric Shanks, chief executive of Fox Sports, appealed to ad buyers, saying, “We know that without you we would just be Netflix. We really like selling pizza, trucks, phones and insurance.”

And Jimmy Kimmel, the roast king in advance, repeatedly swipes at the struggling tech giant.

“Remember when Netflix openly pushed us to share passwords, and we were like, ‘How are these people making money?’” he told Disney’s face. “Apparently not.”

“Oh, everyone loves ‘Bridgerton?’” he continued. “How much do you think they will like when your Zyrtec ad is interrupted every four minutes? We already have Netflix with ads — it’s called Hulu.”

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One sight that advertisers aren’t used to seeing during the first week: Fox News.

For years, the Murdoch family news channel did not appear at Fox’s early presentations, a relief for entertainment company executives, who were wary of alienating left-leaning Hollywood talent. But three years after Rupert Murdoch sold his film and television studios to Disney, Fox News stood out like its sleek sports and entertainment division for the first time in a Fox presentation on Monday.

“We are all part of one Fox,” said Suzanne Scott, chief executive of Fox News, underscoring the point in the pre-recorded video.

Even though Ms. Scott never mentions the network’s top-rated host, Tucker Carlson, who has faced advertiser revolts in the past over his monologues on race, he appears in promo rolls.

Later that week, CNN’s new chairman, Chris Licht, took the pole position for Warner Bros. The newly formed Discovery. Mr Licht stressed that his cable news network would strengthen its commitment to reporting, indicating that the network would turn away from enhanced opinion programming.

“In a time when extremes of dominating cable news,” he told advertisers, “we will look for ways that are different, reflect the real lives of our viewers and elevate the way America and the world perceive this media.”

After two years of virtual storefronts streaming from ad-buyer laptops, most networks were shocked and amazed — emphasis on surprise.

Advertisers are greeted with blinding lights, shaking chairs and elaborate musical numbers. Movie stars such as Sylvester Stallone and Dwayne Johnson, aka the Rock, appeared, as did the Kardashians and the Manning brothers. Singer Lizzo urged ad buyers at the start of YouTube’s unveiling to sing her lyrics “feel so good” — a request she made again, the next day, at a Warner Bros. showcase. Discovery.

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On Monday, just as several thousand unmasked advertisers walked into Radio City Music Hall for the NBCUniversal event, a warning went out on attendees’ phones: Covid cases in New York are on the rise and indoor concealment is strongly encouraged.

“It’s great to be in Radio City – a historic space that can let people know you have Covid,” Seth Meyers said later during the presentation.

Despite Covid concerns (Mr. Kimmel tested positive shortly before the Disney presentation and had to appear via satellite), the show continued. Jennifer Hudson sings Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” at Warner Bros. Discovery. Even YouTube, week one through week one, comes alive, with fireworks, sequins, and jazz hands at the Broadway theater a few steps from Times Square.

But behind the festivities there is a fundamental change. Viewer habits are changing, interest in the fall lineup has disappeared, and there’s an existential concern that’s always been there: What went ahead, and is it still worth it?

“We couldn’t come forward, shake hands, make a few phone calls and make our media investment for the year,” Shenan Reed, head of media at L’Oreal, said during an onstage appearance for Youtube. “The Mad Man’s three martini lunch days are finally, sadly, way behind us.”

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