Let's Hope Upfront Cancellations Are A One-Time Thing

Few industries would seem to be unaffected by the growing threat posed by the apparent worldwide outbreak of Coronavirus and the sense of nervousness (and sometimes outright panic) that has come with it.

So why not television?

In particular, the pandemic is affecting events in which people traditionally gather in groups -- from the comparatively small such as college classrooms and lecture halls to much larger ones such as sports events.

Which brings the TV Blog around to the topic of the New York Upfronts, which are slowly but steadily being struck from the calendars and schedules of attendees from advertising, media and journalism who traditionally look forward to these joyous, yearly occasions.



One thing that has recently come to accompany the arrival each year of Upfront season is a round of commentary from various media observers, participants and columnists about the need for Upfronts. This year, the subject is being revived in the context of these Coronavirus cancellations.

The question being asked is: In the absence of any in-person Upfronts this year, might television and advertising learn once and for all that these traditional, glitzy presentations are unnecessary for the completion of business deals in advance of upcoming seasons?

The point is being made once again by some that decisions on advertising expenditures do not spring from the razzle-dazzle on display at the network television Upfronts. And I am sure that is true.

Advertising professionals who have long been on the receiving end of the television sales process are certainly capable of seeing through the show business clamor in order to make the best dollars-and-cents decisions they can about where and how to spend their money, or their clients’ money.

However -- and this is a big however -- the TV Blog believes that the presentations represent much more than just some platform for TV networks to persuade Upfront attendees to choose their content for their commercials.

The key phrase here appeared two paragraphs ago: Show business. Television is not a nuts-and-bolts industry in the business of manufacturing widgets. It is a vast entertainment and show business complex whose product is as emotional as it is physical. 

And each year, the Upfronts are there to remind us all of this fact. Taken as a whole, the Upfront season gives the television business a huge opportunity to strut its stuff, to put on big shows in sparkling and impressive venues in the capital of media and advertising, New York.

From March to May, these events have traditionally drawn hundreds of eager attendees to Carnegie Hall (where Stephen Colbert, pictured above, performed at the CBS Upfront in 2017), Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, Broadway theaters, vast 19th-century armories and other spectacular event spaces all over Manhattan.

Dare I say it, but the Upfronts are fun. They are an integral part of the lifestyle of the television and advertising industries. They generate excitement. They symbolize for many the very reason why they pursued careers in advertising and media in the first place, because these industries are exciting and interesting.

What would you rather do? Attend widget presentations, or hobnob with TV celebrities, be treated to live, A-list entertainment and eat great food at multiple Upfronts, compliments of the TV networks? I think we all know the answer to that.

If most or all of the upcoming Upfronts are cancelled this year due to the Coronavirus, then the TV Blog hopes for them all to return as usual in 2021. It just won’t seem like the TV business without them.

2 comments about "Let's Hope Upfront Cancellations Are A One-Time Thing".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 11, 2020 at 11:08 a.m.

    One of the unspoken plusses for network TV as opposed to local TV as well as other media are the big TV upfront presentations---galas-----which make it fun to buy network TV. These shows are well liked by the buyers, advertisers, etc. because for a few days each year they not only get wined and dined but they sometimes get to hobnob with a star or two and this makes them feel that they are important. The digital people have tried to emulate such presentations perhaps thinking that this is where the key media decisions are made---but that's wrong. T,hey were made long ago. Still, the idea has merit for digital ad sellers too, providing they do what the TV networks do and entertain their guests as well as spouting technobabble at them. It's all about how the game is played and the New York Upfront shows ---as opposed to the actual buys------confer an element of status upon those making the presentations---when these are well received---that is very worthwhile to those sellers. Just my opinion, of course.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 12, 2020 at 4:39 p.m.

    Station parties were used as a lure for buyers instead of paying them, for sure in Philadelphia. 

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