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The Biggest Takeaways from the 2023 Upfronts

4 MINUTE READ | May 18, 2023

The Biggest Takeaways from the 2023 Upfronts

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

This year’s upfronts presentations were unlike any other as the likes of NBCUniversal, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Netflix took to the stage against a backdrop of challenges—from the WGA writers’ strike to continued economic uncertainty and changing TV advertising and viewership trends.

Across media companies, upfronts presentations were fairly muted compared to years past, lacking the typical star power and headline news announcements advertisers have come to expect around this time of year. Instead, the majority of presentations centered around sizzle reels and slate updates to promote new content and returning shows. 

Disney’s upfronts presentation focused heavily on unscripted programming, including reality TV, live sports, and news. More than 45 minutes of the two-hour presentation focused on ESPN’s live sports offerings and featured stars like Damar Hamlin, Serena Williams, and Pat McAfee.

The biggest Disney-related announcement in recent days was not from the upfronts presentation but news that Disney will soon incorporate the Hulu content library into the Disney+ streaming platform to create a “one-app experience,” according to Disney CEO Bob Iger on the Disney earnings call in recent days. 

The new combined offering is expected to launch by the end of 2023 and will be available to customers who subscribe to both streaming services. The announcement is the latest signal that Disney intends to retain its ownership of Hulu as negotiations for Comcast’s 33 percent stake play out. “The consolidation of streaming TV platforms bodes well for advertisers, as fewer apps help provide brands with more advertising opportunities at scale across a larger library of premium content,” said Natalee Geldert, head of brand media at PMG.

At the YouTube Brandcast event on Wednesday, YouTube executives introduced several new ad types. YouTube will soon begin testing “Pause Experiences” for YouTube on TV screens, which will play an ad once the viewer pauses a video, similar to Hulu pause ads. YouTube will also introduce 30-second non-skippable ads across top-performing YouTube videos on TVs.

According to Variety, “YouTube remains the No. 1 most-watched service on TV screens in the U.S. (across both streaming platforms and traditional TV networks), and in April was one of the only streaming services to see month-to-month growth, per Nielsen.” 

New NFL content will also be coming to the platform. The Hollywood Reporter reported, “The new NFL shows include Game Day All Access, which will see players mic’d up on the sidelines during games, and a new YouTube Shorts program, NFL Creator of the Week, will debut after the season kicks off.” And while other media companies felt the impact of the WGA writers’ strike, YouTube’s Brandcast featured creators and talent front and center, with musical performances, a fashion show, and plenty of giveaways for those in attendance. 

It’s been six months since Netflix launched its ad-supported plan, with the subscription tier now boasting nearly five million global monthly active users, according to Jeremi Gordan, president of worldwide advertising at Netflix, at this year’s Netflix upfronts presentation. On average, more than a quarter of new Netflix signups now choose the ads plan, with 70 percent of ad-supported users falling between the ages of 18 and 49.

To help brands connect and engage with these subscribers, new ad formats are coming soon. This includes Netflix Sponsorship, where brand partners can sponsor a popular Netflix series at launch or align with meaningful Netflix content collections with campaigns organized around local holidays (like Netflix on Valentine’s Day) or key brand storytelling moments (such as Netflix Sustainability Stories). 

It was also announced that beginning in Q4 of this year, brands in the U.S. will be able to use Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings (DAR), which offers deduplicated audience measurement metrics for brand campaigns running on the Netflix ad-supported subscription plan. As reported by Variety, “Netflix executives played up the phenomenon known as ‘The Netflix Effect’ time and again during the presentation, enticing marketers with the idea that Netflix has been instrumental in creating new moments and trends in popular culture—and could do the same for them.”

Alongside these product and technology announcements was a slate of new films and shows, including returning favorites like The Crown, Virgin River, and Love is Blind, new dramas including All the Light We Cannot See, and more. 

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"CTV ad opportunities and the various inroads into live sports and unscripted programming across streaming platforms were the dominant themes from this year's upfronts presentations,” said Geldert. “As media companies continue to invest in streaming and CTV while adjusting their content slates and advertising formats accordingly, advertisers stand to gain from the countless opportunities for engaging with audiences across platforms and where ample time is being spent.” 

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