Where do I sign?
That was my reaction as I listened to Warner Bros. Discovery sales honcho Jon Steinlauf make his pitch to the advertising community at the WB Discovery Upfront Wednesday in New York.
That’s how effective and eloquent the pitch was. Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer for the newly combined company, addressed his ad-biz audience directly, invited them to do business with WB Discovery and then persuasively made the case for why they should.
“Our story starts with you,” he said at the outset of his remarks, using a word -- you -- that is all too often neglected by some TV companies at Upfront time.
“At this historic moment, our new company brings you iconic brands and unrivaled content with endless opportunity,” Steinlauf said. “So now we invite you to tell your stories to our audience of ad-receptive consumers with never-before-seen reach.”
Citing the company’s wide-ranging content portfolio, Steinlauf said WB Discovery can offer access to virtually every audience segment there is -- and you believed him.
For example, he said. “You can extend reach with younger viewers through our digital platforms. You can follow the consumer journey from linear to digital awareness to activation as viewers go deeper into a news story, catch sports highlights [and] download a recipe or a how-to tip.
“We can even put your brand right there at the moment of inspiration with a shoppable message. … We can amplify your campaigns with custom partnerships to integrate your brand with ours so you become part of the content experience. … Simply put, your campaigns work better here.”
Old hands might read these quotes from Steinlauf’s pitch and wonder why this TV blogger is praising them so.
Maybe it is because I have been to so many of these that I have come to be surprised when Upfront scripts actually address the needs of the advertising industry representatives who endure New York traffic and other hardships year after year to attend these dog-and-pony shows.
In this regard, the Disney Upfront, held Tuesday afternoon in a venue that should never be used again for an Upfront, stood in direct contrast to WB Discovery’s.
The Disney event ran for two hours, but seemed much longer. A great deal of it amounted to little more than cacophonous noise as Disney promoted new shows and original movies coming to the likes of Hulu and Disney+.
In addition, about 30 minutes -- or fully one-quarter of this 120-minute Upfront -- was spent promoting ESPN and the company’s sports portfolio. This segment was an interminable time-sucker.
Rita Ferro, president of advertising sales and partnerships, came onstage twice in the two-hour event. The first time, she was there for three minutes.
At the WB Discovery Upfront, Steinlauf got approximately 10 minutes for his pitch, which was accompanied by ample data and other key information seen on a large screen, Power Point-style.
Near the end of the Disney show, Ferro came out again for a minute or two -- not to sum up a Disney pitch for ad dollars, but mainly to introduce Jimmy Kimmel, who was beamed in from southern California to give his usual annual stand-up routine in which he savagely excoriates his own company.
If Ferro had a message for advertisers, it is likely little remembered now. As for the word you, it was replaced almost entirely by we at the Disney Upfront -- as in, here is how great we are.
How else did the two Upfronts differ? While Disney’s segments (and indeed the entire show) were overlong, WB Discovery’s felt just right.
Throughout its two hours, Disney brought on stars such as Steve Martin and Martin Short (promoting their Hulu series “Only Murders in the Building), Claire Danes (for a new Hulu series called “Fleishman Is In Trouble”) and L.A. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford for segments that were largely stiff.
In the WB Discovery celebrity segments, the WBD stars were relaxed and felt like old friends. These included in-person appearances by Bobby Flay, Jonathan Scott (“Property Brothers”), rapper Lil Jon (who has a new show on HGTV), Chip and Joanna Gaines, Mike Rowe and others -- even Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan who are co-starring in an HBO Max remake of “Father of the Bride.”
Warner Bros. Discovery had more showmanship than The Walt Disney Company. WB Discovery’s event was held in a real theater where it belonged -- the Theater at Madison Square Garden, located in the heart of everything.
And the WBD show was closed by Jennifer Hudson -- backed by a brassy nine-piece band and four back-up singers -- who blew the roof off with a performance of “Respect” that would have made Aretha Franklin green with envy.
The Disney Upfront ended with no such thing. Moreover, the Disney event was held in an event space called Basketball City carved out of a former municipal warehouse next to the East River in one of the most forlorn corners of Manhattan.
So that is what it has come to -- the entertainment colossus founded by the great Walt Disney now has its annual Upfront in a glorified gym.
Photo courtesy of the Warner Bros. Discovery corporate website, Wbd.com.https://wbd.com/
Addendum: Fox News Channel objected to TVBlog’s characterization that its prime-time stars – Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham – were omitted from Fox’s upfront presentation this week. A spokesperson noted they were shown on screen at one point during the presentation.