Upfronts 2024: TV Insiders Ready to ‘Sprint’ and Schmooze Again After 2023’s Strike Disruption (FULL CALENDAR)

When NBCUniversal kicks off TV’s traditional week of upfront presentations on Monday, picket-free sidewalks outside Radio City Music Hall will be a sight for sore eyes following last year’s noisy protests in the first weeks of what proved to be the nation’s “hot labor summer.”

Hosting a programming presentation at a megawatt New York City venue like Radio City or Javits Center is stressful enough. Executives are eager to return to business as usual in wooing Madison Avenue. Last year, the Writers Guild of America went on strike May 2, barely two weeks before the curtain went up on NBCU’s tip-off event.

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“As much as the upfront is a business presentation, it’s also a celebration of everything that NBCUniversal has to offer,” Josh Feldman, chief marketing officer of NBCUniversal advertising and partnerships tells Variety. “And our number one goal is for our audience to walk out of Radio City feeling inspired by their experience, and excited to find new and creative ways to work together. From news to sports to entertainment, in English and in Spanish, on linear and streaming, and everything in between – NBCUniversal has an unrivaled portfolio of content, talent and technology that we are thrilled to pull the curtain back on Monday morning.”


MONDAY (May 13)

10:30 a.m.: NBCUniversal (Radio City Music Hall); 4 p.m.: Fox Corp. (Hammerstein Ballroom); 6:30 p.m. Telemundo (The Shed NYC)

TUESDAY (May 14)

9:30 a.m.: Amazon Ads (Pier 36); 11:30 a.m. TelevisaUnivision (HK Hall); 4 p.m.: Disney (North Javits Center)


10 a.m.: Warner Bros. Discovery (The Theater at MSG); 3 p.m. Netflix First-Look Presentation (Pier59 Studios); 6 p.m.: YouTube (David Geffen Hall)


All day: Netflix Experience (Pier59 Studios)

And with writers and actors no longer on strike, NBCU and competitors Disney, Fox, Warner Bros. Discovery, Netflix and now Amazon, have an easier task of planning events. This year they can include talent again, rather than a parade of execs promoting projects on stage while pretending the WGA isn’t chanting unfavorable things right outside.

“There is an increased energy this year, of course, with talent and press and execs back in full force,” one source within a large legacy media company says. “Upfronts have evolved in the last 30 years but the energy has steadily increased with slight blips — last year most obvious among them — so when the gun goes off this year, people will be ready to sprint.”

Another insider a major media conglom observes, “There’s such a good feeling that we’ll have talent and shows we can date — things that were all up in the air last year.”

Though talent can come back – and the networks and streamers are happy to have them doing the heavy lifting on stage – the assignment of being front and center at upfront programming presentations isn’t as glamorous as it once was for A-listers.

“We’re glad the strikes are settled and everyone can be friends again, but that doesn’t mean upfronts are all of a sudden this huge deal for our clients again,” an agency source says. “They’re so pared down compared to what they used to be. And even if you’re the star of a new broadcast show, you’re not the star of the upfronts anymore. It’s mostly about big live events and their whole portfolio now.”

With the strikes out of the way, there is also room for new concerns, including how much money media congloms still lay out to woo advertisers during upfront season. Questions about the ROI from glitzy upfront week events is under scrutiny at a time when most of the majors have endured deep budget cuts and layoffs have shrunk the size of the staff around to execute these events.

“The overlay is also that the ad market is still pretty soft, so there’s a lot of people feeling a lot of pressure,” a source in cable ad sales says.

Multiple individuals say media companies are sending fewer employees from Los Angeles to New York for the week this year, and the scripted departments are being relied upon less heavily to fill out the programs, as presentations are more likely to focus on sports and unscripted content.

There are also concerns that while Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA aren’t protesting outside the upfronts, other activists could use the upfront presentations of the owners of Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and ABC News as a chance to stage demonstrations surrounding the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

This year marks Amazon’s first go at the upfronts with its Amazon Ads division, following the move to bring advertising to premium streamer Prime Video. The ecommerce giant previously dabbled in newfronts for ad-supported Freevee. It’s also a fresh start for Netflix, which enterted upfront week for the the first time last year but scrambled to produce a virtual event at the last minute after the onset of the WGA strike.

Warner Bros. Discovery has held two upfronts as a unified company since its merger was completed in April 2022, but insiders see this week’s event as the first full-throttle effort to demonstrate the breadth of offerings across Max, TNT, Food Network, HGTV, Discovery, Warner Bros. and more. The 2022 event was held weeks after the completion of the $43 billion mega-merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery. The second event was held last year amid the sound of WGA pickets and protesters outside shouting harsh words about WBD chief executive David Zaslav.

With cautious optimism, most industry insiders gearing up for TV’s marathon week are banking on getting away from the “bizarre” and “weird” vibes of 2023’s upfronts and seeing “more fun and lighthearted” energy in the coming week.

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