Advertising, Connected TV

Here’s What You Missed at NewFronts — and What to Expect at Upfronts

NewFronts, upfronts — what the front is going on? We’ve got you covered.

Here’s What You Missed at NewFronts — and What to Expect at Upfronts

5 Min Read

The 2023 NewFronts officially came to a close last week, and while the celebrities might’ve stolen some of the show, free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) and new ad formats were big crowd-pleasers this year, too.

But the season doesn’t stop there. Up next is the big one: upfronts, which kick off May 15th, have already inspired discussions about ratings measurement and the future of various ad-supported streaming offerings. And this is all before considering the effects the writers’ strike might have on the industry in the coming months.

Which is to say, there’s a lot to catch up on. Instead of reading a Tolstoy-length transcript of all the events you missed, check out some of the highlights from NewFronts, plus a preview of what might be coming at upfronts.

The FASTs and the Furious

With ~157.1M FAST users in the U.S., it’s no wonder that these services were the main focus for many of the major players at NewFronts. This year, a key topic when it came to FASTs was the very thing that sets each apart—exclusive content.

Amazon made a splash when it announced that its free streaming service FreeVee (formerly IMDb TV) will soon host more than 100 Prime original shows. Additionally, Amazon highlighted its original FAST content, including recent dark-horse hit “Jury Duty” and new show featuring Judge Judy, “Justice on Trial.”

Not to be outdone, Roku’s celebrity-filled presentation also honed in on exclusive content. Most notably perhaps was “Charlie Makes a Record”, a reality show that follows pop star Charlie Puth’s life. On top of this, Roku touted its new food competitions, “Special Delivery” and ”Celebrity Family Cook Off,” in addition to other fresh originals “Side Hustlers,” “Carpe DM with Juanpa,” and more.

Samsung Ads got in on the action too, announcing that comedian Conan O’Brien will launch his first FAST channel on Samsung TV Plus. The channel will feature 30-minute segments made up of clips of O’Brien’s most popular moments.

Vizio, Vevo, and Peacock also presented exclusive FAST content at NewFronts. Speaking of NBC’s streaming service…

From Streaming to Social, New Ad Formats Abound

Peacock promoted not one, not two, not three, but four new ad formats. Here is the highest of high-level breakdowns of each:

  1. Must ShopTV: Allows viewers to purchase products featured in Peacock content. For example, the knives and cutting boards featured in “Top Chef.” 
  2. Spotlight+: An expansion on the Spotlight format, this solution lets brands target viewers of Peacock originals, no matter where they’re watching—including on third-party partner platforms. 
  3. Power Break: Peacock’s Pause Ads, now upgraded with data-driven targeting. When a consumer pauses Peacock, they will be served a full-screen ad specifically targeted to them. 
  4. Marquee: Originally intended for linear television, Marquee will allow brands to advertise on the scoreboard during live sporting events.

Social media platforms were also a large part of this conversation. After seeing success with augmented reality (AR) ads on the Facebook and Instagram feed and Stories, Meta decided to expand the offering by bringing the format to Reels and Facebook Stories. This is likely a pointed move to stay in competition with Snap, who also presented new ad formats.

While the 2023 NewFronts was full of promise, we’d be remiss to not address the elephant in the room: the writers’ strike.

The Writers’ Strike is Likely to Impact Upfront Outcomes

After months of rumblings and failed negotiations, on May 2, members of the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA), the main union for Hollywood’s screenwriters, halted work. With upfronts starting on May 15th, there are a lot of questions around what this will mean for television networks, streaming services, and advertisers.

Naturally, the strike calls many shows’ futures into question. Fewer new content offerings might mean less of an appeal for brands to purchase ad space. But the streaming boom means the playing field won’t look the same as it did during the last writers’ strike back in 2008.

“The broadcasters have a little bit more to worry about than the streamers, and that’s essentially because the streamers have an endless amount of content that they’re not putting something on at eight o’clock that needs a writer and a script,” one media buyer told Ad Age. “If they do hold out [in negotiations with WGA], then it will have an effect on programming and the upfront, but one would say money’s already shifting to streaming.”

The movement of ad dollars isn’t the only shift from linear to streaming likely to be a big topic at this year’s upfronts.

What’s Upfront of Mind Heading into Next Week?

“TV viewers’ shift to streaming platforms will loom large throughout [upfronts],” predicts the Wall Street Journal.

Where people are watching TV is changing, which raises big questions about how to measure content ratings. Nielsen’s system may have long been the industry standard, but as we say here often: the times, they are a changin’.

“Major television players and media agencies are joining together in a ‘joint industry committee,’ which will seek to create new standards for audience measurement services, among other goals,” reports the WSJ. “The group argues that data from set-top boxes and smart TVs allows for more reliable measurement than that relying on the panel-only data that traditionally has been used.”

Measurement questions aside, streaming is certainly poised to remain the center of attention this year.

Now that all of the major streaming platforms have an ad-supported tier, upfronts will help to determine which offering(s) comes out on top. While both “newcomers” to the ad-supported model, Disney+ may have more work to do than Netflix in regards to driving ad revenue, suggests Variety. It all comes down to the expectations they’ve set.

“The pressures on the Mouse House are far greater at this moment than those on Netflix,” Variety reports. “Disney has promised Wall Street its direct-to-consumer division can turn a profit next year, which is also when CEO Bob Iger will need to decide what to do with the company’s streaming albatross, Hulu.”

How the upfronts actually play out is yet to be seen. Some media outlets are sitting them out altogether; Paramount Global has decided not to attend the event, opting instead to “hold more intimate upfront dinners with clients and partners.” Could this signify a decline in the perceived value of the upfronts? We’ll just have to wait and see…

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