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2024 Upfronts Takeaways: Live Sports Dominated Streaming & Linear TV Content Offerings

4 MINUTE READ | May 24, 2024

2024 Upfronts Takeaways: Live Sports Dominated Streaming & Linear TV Content Offerings

2024 Upfronts Takeaways: Live Sports Dominated Streaming & Linear TV Content Offerings

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Juliet Corsinita, Head of Convergent Video and Audio

Juliet is PMG's Head of Convergent Video & Audio, where she leads PMG's convergent video and audience practice. With over 25 years of experience in client- and agency-side media and marketing, Juliet is one of the industry’s leading voices on the importance of innovative partnership strategies, thanks to her expertise in leading brands through the ever-evolving maze of screen-agnostic, premium video.

The annual Upfronts took place as they have for over six decades during a busy week in New York, where media conglomerates touted their vast entertainment video platforms and gathered advertisers and brands to present their latest in new content, measurement, and ad tech. A few prominent themes emerged this year as the media industry grapples with immense disruption, ongoing fragmentation, and yet, resilience in an effort to motivate media buyers to place investments early to secure quality content to attract and engage consumers. 

Markedly different from the Upfronts of yore, which focused on program announcements and where network TV was winning the Nielsen ‌ratings race on adults 18–49, this year’s Upfronts reflected the significant shifts in streaming usage. The 2024 Upfronts will be remembered for the unveiling of new measurement capabilities and innovative ad formats like shoppable and interactive or pause ads. Data partnerships, in which the ad community can be better assured of determining attribution and engagement from their buys within these new content environments, also made headlines. 

The video content landscape is more fragmented than ever, offering unprecedented choice but at a cost (for subscriptions). The sheer number of streaming platforms has saturated the market with promises of quality content and low advertising loads. Against a backdrop marked by the convergence of traditional linear TV and streaming platforms, this year’s Upfront announcements continued to place the viewer in control and a stronger emphasis on new content availability, specifically on legacy TV networks and ad-supported streaming platforms. Whereas historically the Upfronts focused on TV networks announcing programming schedules on ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, now the focus is on Disney+, Paramount+, Tubi, and Peacock, respectively. 

In its second year as one combined entity, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) highlighted MAX as the premier destination for new content and spent decidedly less time on traditional networks like The Food Network, HGTV, Magnolia, and others during their presentation. Where live sports was a larger focus, legacy networks like TBS and TNT received a bit more stage time. The elephant in the many (glitzy) presentation rooms was the question of how streamers must reach profitability and serve as a growth engine. With all the talk of TV ratings declines and the death of the cable bundle, ‌streaming platforms must still find a way to replace the audiences and growth traditional linear TV has sustained for decades.

Prime Video and Amazon's MGM Studios launched their inaugural Upfront presentation by reminding Madison Avenue that they have 200 million global customers, engaged audiences, and they aren’t pulling any punches when debuting premium content with Prime Video ads. 

Netflix, in its second Upfront (but first in-person event after 2023 was made virtual in light of the writers and SAG/AFTRA strikes),  took the audience through a brief but content-rich presentation. This was followed by an experiential event to immerse attendees in Netflix content and culture. Engagement, measurement, and culture-defining (AKA, the Netflix Effect) were highlighted to distinguish native streamers from legacy TV platforms. Yet, the Upfront presentations still rely on celebrity glitz and glamor to break through with the advertising community that's overwhelmed by video choices in a content arms race.

Noticing Netflix's success within the sports documentary space from series like Beckham and Drive to Survive, Amazon is entering this content genre with two new sports documentaries: One focused on Dale Earnhardt Sr. and another filmed by Roger Federer. These sports documentaries immerse fans in the world of their athletic idols but also extend interest and offer new ways of engagement to a new sports audience by inviting the audience to relate to players and the sport itself through a lifestyle lens. Similarly, Netflix will continue to invest in this genre with additional sports documentary originals as well via Receiver (NFL), Sprint (Track & Field) Simone Biles: Rising (Gymnastics), and past docu-series season extensions.

Over the past three years, the biggest shift in the Upfront season is a general lack of primetime TV schedule announcements that marked the majority of past Upfront unveilings. Those days are over as viewers are in control of their program scheduling. What remains the same about the Upfronts is the star-studded spectacle of content genre announcements offering something of interest for every discerning audience or target. Media companies showcase full platforms with the intent to ensure brands looking to reach desirable, evasive, and discerning buyers will find content they love within their media portfolio. 

Most streaming services and TV networks headlined their presentation by showcasing destination content, namely live sports and tentpole live events partnerships, with significant emphasis on NFL and college football, both of which lead the ratings as the new Upfronts year begins in September. The extensive genres beyond live programming include entertainment, comedy, dramas, lifestyle programs, unscripted/reality, and variety shows, including game shows, talk shows, competitions, news, true crime, and everything in between. 

The Upfronts may have less necessity than in past decades when it was the place to learn about new content and programming lineups. Now, we exist in an era of never-ending releases with a steady stream of new content across a variety of video providers. Still, the new video Upfronts offers advertisers the opportunity to learn about new ways to reach viewers in streaming and linear TV environments and consider how to deploy different data partnerships to enhance traditional ways of transacting. 

Media platforms can use the week to differentiate themselves from the video landscape and unveil unique ad formats and methods to connect with engaged viewers. Ultimately, the Upfront is a big stage from which they can make announcements and drive press about premium content, some of which they claim will have a limited supply, creating an environment of scarcity. 

This scarcity model doesn’t holistically align with the mechanics of programmatic audience buying, nor does it align with the majority of‌ streaming content availability where there's outsized supply versus demand. The old Upfront model may work for limited-supply content like some live sports, big events, and the most premium content to a new model. 

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In the years ahead, we may very well see a transition from a one-time showcase to an ongoing mechanism in the ad industry, wrestling with choice but planning marketing investments throughout the year as content opportunities are unveiled. As emerging technology and formats dazzle marketers across channels, the old ‘secure-in-advance’ TV marketplace may soon become a necessity for a very limited scope of video content. Until then, the Upfronts season remains a must-watch, bellwether event for the video and TV industry. 

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