Upfront Stunner! Discovery Communications Won’t Take the Stage This Year

By TV / Video Download Archives
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If you haven't noticed, MediaBizBloggers recently posted its calendar of 2015 Upfront and NewFront events . (The calendar will during the next few weeks be continuously updated as more information comes in.) Strap in for an already formidable cavalcade of networks and streaming and digital services unveiling the programming they plan to offer this summer, fall and beyond. This year's event lineup kicks off the week after next and wraps with the annual mid-May week of events morning, noon and night. (FYI: As of this weekend there are 13 events scheduled during that week, not counting the annual mid-week showcase by cinema ad player NCM.)

Unless something breaks at the last minute, Nickelodeon draws first (on February 25), followed in short order by Fuse and Spike TV, a pair of channels coming back to the event fold for the first time in years. Count on quite a few more networks either checking back in or making their debuts before things cool down. Plus, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has the majority of its Digital Content NewFronts fortnight dance card filled. Given that more people are watching Internet material over smart TVs and various devices which make TVs smart, the players involved will get more attention from advertisers and journalists than ever.

Now comes word that one of the biggest programmers around – one that routinely delivers one of the most anticipated and popular events of Upfront season -- is largely sitting this one out. Discovery Communications and its 13 channels will nothit the Jazz at Lincoln Center/Rose Hall stage this early April. Instead, the company's ad sales force will hold a series of multi-agency presentations behind closed doors in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere. A few presentations will happen next month, the rest by April 15.

A few reports about Discovery's decision last week suggested that the process of producing a two-hour-plus event, with all the talent and technology involved, got too pricey. Other reports speculated that, given concerns about advertisers and agencies diverting ad spending from broadcast and cable TV to digital services, direct face time with executive decision-makers might prove to be more valuable.

Here's the problem Discovery and other programmers will face with this decision: Upfront events are no longer “private” fests for the ad community. They are major promotional events through which the public learns about current and future programming directions, via the journalists who attend them. With the ever-growing number of channels and services out there, and the deluge of original series they are developing, it's critical to stay on the public's radar in any way possible.

In Discovery's case, moving to a different upfront strategy comes amid a wave of transitional times there: Mothership Discovery Channel bringing former Disney Channel leader Rich Ross in as president and launching an expanded scripted effort; Discovery Fit & Health becoming Discovery Life Channel; The Hub turning into Discovery Family Channel (exact course still unclear) and Oprah Winfrey Network running on expanded cylinders.

When Cartoon Network and TV One ended their event efforts two years ago, they didn't come up with effective alternative communications vehicles. That resulted in less press for key projects which would have picked up valuable attention otherwise. Perhaps that's why Cartoon Network will participate in the expanded TNT/TBS/Time Warner ceremony during that mid-May blitz.

Discovery and other programmers will clearly weigh the decision whether or not to produce Upfront events this year or any year thereafter. In lieu of events, however, they should at the very least invite press in New York and Los Angeles to breakfast or lunch gatherings with executives and some on-air talent to outline what's ahead and take questions. That’s a far less expensive opportunity to stay afloat in the public discourse.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

Simon Applebaum is host/producer of “Tomorrow Will Be Televised,” the radio/TV simulcast all about TV. The program runs live at 3 p.m. ET Mondays and Fridays on BlogTalk Radio (www.blogtalkradio.com) and on Brooklyn Independent Media HD, available New York City-wide on Verizon Fios and throughout Brooklyn via Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems and RCN. Replays are available at www.blogtalkradio.com/televised and www.bricartsmedia.org.

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