Streaming Services Sneak Onto Upfront Stages

The television upfronts are over. While there was the usual celebration of linear TV, and the de rigueur embrace of data and targeting, another trend permeated the presentations last week: streaming video.

To be sure, streaming was not the centerpiece of any presentation. And yet, there CBS was, talking about its suite of streaming services on stage at Carnegie Hall, while  ABC touted the social video reach of its millennial-targeting cable channel FreeForm at Lincoln Center.

ESPN made its new streaming service, ESPN+, a top priority at its presentation Tuesday morning, noting it was preparing to beef up the exclusive live sports available on the service.

At Turner Broadcasting’s presentation, executives discussed how the viewership of their programming multiplied when factoring in consumers who choose to stream their shows, rather than watch live.

Perhaps more than any other network, the CW touted its streaming credentials noting that all its shows were available to stream for free. In addition, the network made a big deal out of the digital success of “Riverdale,” the series based on the Archie Comics universe. Executives noted that the series was most-watched in digital.

Still, it was CBS that was top of mind for many media buyers at the end of the week. The most traditional of broadcast networks still celebrated the medium at its presentation, but the time devoted to its CBS All Access service, which included trailers for upcoming All Access originals, was longer than at any previous upfront. 

In addition, CBS touted its streaming news service, CBSN, its new streaming sports network, CBS Sports HQ, and its upcoming entertainment news network, which will be based on the “Entertainment Tonight” brand, encouraging buyers to spend ad dollars to these digital platforms.

All told, the very traditional upfronts looked just a little more forward-thinking this year than in years past, as the networks look over the horizon to a world where consumers still watch their shows, but may do so over the internet rather than through a coaxial cable or a broadcast antenna.

That doesn’t mean the networks couldn’t have a little fun at the expense of this new technology, as Jimmy Kimmel did at the ABC upfront. “Our technology gets more advanced every year. We are on the verge of having data that is so specific, you will be able to blackmail viewers into using your products." Kimmel joked.

“Now, more than ever, we have so many ways to reach your customers. You're going to hear a lot about 'blockchain' this week. And here's what's important about it: Nobody has any idea what it is. You don't know, we definitely don't know — but what we do know is that we're going to charge you up the ass for it.”

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