“Our brands are kind of built for this moment,” UP Entertainment CEO Charley Humbard told MediaVillage during an exclusive interview earlier this week. “It’s easy for our networks to be a positive and hopeful choice for consumers because it’s natural for us. It’s in our DNA. It’s the purpose we were built for.” That’s the message Humbard (pictured above) and his team are sharing with advertisers this week as UPtv and Aspire tv begin their yearly cycle of Virtual Upfront meetings.
“These are unprecedented times,” he continued. “In a way it’s like living in a sci-fi movie. The unknowns of what’s coming and how it resolves … all that uncertainty is piling up on everybody. That said, I’ve seen a lot of positive things develop that are bringing out the best in a lot of us.”
You’ll be reading a lot about Virtual Upfronts in the weeks ahead (especially here at VirtualUpfront.com). For UP Entertainment, the concept is not new. “We have been a video-based meeting company for a couple of years,” he said. “We got into that pretty early in the game, so working remotely is kind of natural to us. We’re going to hold all our Upfronts as virtual video meetings. We’re a pretty progressive company when we think about satisfying the needs of our clients as well as how we work with them in unusual circumstances like this.
“I think for UPtv and Aspire tv and even our streaming platform, UP Faith & Family, which is not advertiser supported, these times encourage us to find stories that make us feel better and positive and hopeful,” he continued. “Unlike some channels that must now create new programs or go back to their libraries and pull something out that might make people feel good, it’s what we do all the time. This type of programming is natural for us, and what we want to do during these times is showcase it even more.”
At the forefront of that strategy is UPtv’s expanded commitment to producing original movies and Aspire tv’s plan to be a leader in black and urban lifestyle. “We are aggressively investing in new programming to be featured on our networks, especially movies, more than we ever have before,” Humbard said. “It’s a huge commitment by us, but content is king more than ever in this world, and our original movies are what we are getting behind.”
Although most television production has shut down during the Coronavirus pandemic, Humbard noted that UPtv has 30 movies completed and ready to go in the months ahead. There are many more to fall back on and many more in pre-production.
“We now have a unique, strategic partnership with Larry Levinson Productions that gives us access to a library of high-quality made for television movies as well as the ability to license LLP’s new movies, so we have a long-term pipeline in place,” Humbard explained. “The resources Larry brings to the table are just remarkable. He has produced for CBS, TNT, Hallmark, all the networks. He made some of the highest quality movies ever made for television. He now makes our movies, and we have exclusive access to his library. He has his own backlot in Los Angeles, and he’s got the largest prop house in the world. We have a strategic alliance that allows us to really shine for our clients.”
Since January the network has been premiering a new movie every Sunday night and plans to continue doing so throughout much of the year. (UPtv also now runs movies all weekend long, from Friday night through Sunday night.) “Our Sunday night premiere movies are a fabulous opportunity for sponsors to get behind a great movie that can be watched by the whole family,” Humbard noted.
The same can be said for UPtv’s many original and acquired series, especially now. With over 40 million kids currently at home, parents want something that they can put the kids down in front of without worrying about inappropriate content, Humbard explained. “For us it’s a time to say okay, we have these shows, what are we doing on the schedule? What can be different? What’s really popping? What do they want more of?
“You can leave our brands on 24 hours, all day long, and not worry about it,” he continued. “That’s a big deal, and I think parents appreciate that. The shows and movies that rise to the top are beloved brands that make people smile and laugh, likeGilmore Girls, Rebaand Little House on the Prairie.” Even the promotions for such shows are trying to inject some humor into these dark times. “We’re doing fun promo pieces and giving a little wink to folks who are dealing with life in a way they never expected to.”
UPtv also has some timely yet organic content in the works. For example, there will be special content created with the stars of the network’s flagship reality series Bringing Up Bates, which in its ninth season is enjoying some of its highest ratings in years and remains a top-20 cable show on Thursday nights.
“Gil and Kelly Bates are experts in home schooling,” Humbard said, explaining that they home-schooled all 19 of their children. “They are producing home schooling tips for parents that we are going to push out via social media, have available via digital and put on the air. They will be interstitials on the network, so those could be sponsored. We want them to be a helpful tool as well as something fun. It’s a great way right now to offer a little assistance to folks who are figuring out this new life at home, have a little fun and make our brands even more memorable.”
When asked if the enduring popularity of the Bates family and the longevity of their series had led to thoughts of a spin-off or two, Humbard replied, “We’ve talked to them about a few different ideas. We’re already planning their next season.”
Humbard is especially proud of the fact that many distributors have chosen to allow their viewers to have access to UPtv and Aspire tv for as long the pandemic continues. It’s an obvious benefit for the networks' advertisers, who will now be seen in approximately 15 million more homes, he noted. But the reinforcement of the UPtv brand is also rewarding. “It’s just great that they chose our networks,” he said. “They called us up and asked us to be one of them. Having positive brands is a good thing right now on their distribution systems. It’s good to be thought of that way.”
For more background on UP Entertainment read our Lunch at Michael's interview with Charley Humbard.
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