Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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    Upfronts 2022—Warner Bros. Discovery’s debut, Paramount keeps it brief and unscripted fare rules (again)

    Welcome to the third and final edition of our special pop-up TV upfronts roundup. We’re bringing you breaking news and some of the best (and worst) of the main week of TV’s dog-and-pony show, curated by Catie Keck, senior TV reporter, and Parker Herren, Ad Age reporter, delivered directly to your inbox.

    Joining us late? You can find Tuesday’s edition here and Monday’s edition over here.


    Paramount keeps it short

    Following a few days of lengthy ad pitches, Paramount decided to keep it short with a “60 Minutes”-themed upfront at New York’s Carnegie Hall late Wednesday afternoon. The entertainment giant stressed repeatedly that it would not be holding its audience hostage for longer than an hour—though it did go slightly over.

    As for the programming highlights during one of this week’s shortest presentations—fatigued buyers could be heard expressing their gratitude for the relative brevity—reality and unscripted featured heavily, following a similar trend from rivals NBCUniversal and Warner. Bros Discovery (more on that below).

    The format was a collection of interview segments (à la “60 Minutes”) and skits peppered with celebrity appearances by actors plugging their shows. A sketch about Carnegie Hall being haunted—with ad boss Jo Ann Ross joking it was the reason Paramount could afford the venue—turned into an onstage musical number featuring the leads of the CBS sitcom “Ghosts,” while a fictional game show plugged metrics about streaming services Pluto and Paramount+.

    “Yellowstone” and “1882” got ample attention, but the biggest star of Paramount’s event by far was Sylvester Stallone, who sent the audience into a roar of applause when he appeared onstage to plug his new series “Tulsa King.”

    Warner Bros. Discovery’s first upfront

    Today, Warner Bros. Discovery made its first upfront presentation since the two companies merged last month. At Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater, the newborn media entity made its bid to advertisers, favoring its unscripted programming over its premium IP.

    After opening remarks from CEO David Zaslav, in which he offered a brief history of Warner Bros.’ nearly century-long legacy, Jennifer Hudson took over hosting duties, threading together a highlight reel of talent including “90 Day Fiancé” host Shaun Robinson, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and Magnolia Network creators Chip and Joanna Gaines, all delivering pitches in rhythm with a percussive score.

    HBO Max only made the final 15 minutes of the presentation—despite the streaming platform having an ad-supported tier—with no mention of offerings like upcoming seasons of “Westworld” or “Game of Thrones” spinoff “House of the Dragon.”

    Regardless, HBO Max claims the crown for the presentation’s best moment, which came when Lizzo, promoting her upcoming documentary, said, “I’m so excited to present this to y’all. I put blood, sweat, tears and pussy juice into this documentary. And I could stand here and talk all day about my pussy juice”—to gasps and laughter from the audience.

    Immediately after, J.B. Perrette, Warner Bros. Discovery’s global streaming & interactive chief, began his concluding statements with, “I don’t know how to come after the pussy juice.” Still, he soldiered on, offering a hint of his vision for the combined media giants: “In the not too distant future, we see a unique possibility to bring all these incredible stories and brands that shape culture, that delight, amaze and inform global consumers and bring home these remarkable moments across all these genres in one awesome global streaming product.”

    RSVP for Ad Age In-Depth: TV Pivot on May 24 and 25 at AdAge.com/TVPivot

    Disney brings out the stars, and Kimmel slays (as always)

    One way to make people feel like kids again: have them climb over each other on gymnasium bleachers. Disney’s upfront presentation took place late Tuesday afternoon at Manhattan’s Basketball City at Pier 36—a venue so far out of the way, Jimmy Kimmel joked that if the massive audience was willing to make the trek, “there is literally nothing they [Disney] can’t force you to do.”

    The two-hour presentation tried to keep its audience engrossed with an in-person procession of celebrity talent, including Ryan Seacrest, Kerry Washington, Claire Danes, Ellen Pompeo, Kumail Nanjiani, Kris Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Amy Schumer, Peyton and Eli Manning, Troy Aikman, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson and the principal casts of “Abbott Elementary” and “Only Murders in the Building.” And it featured sneak peeks at highly anticipated releases like “She Hulk: Attorney at Law” and “Hocus Pocus 2.”

    Curiously, after a flurry of news Tuesday morning teasing Disney+’s upcoming ad products, the company offered few additional details to potential advertisers.

    By the show’s end, when aching backs and slideshow fatigue were increasingly causing restlessness and walkouts, Disney managed to bring the presentation home with laugh-out-loud standup from Kimmel, who was forced to Zoom into the venue because of a positive COVID test. He joked that he was speaking live from the Fox upfront, “where people don’t care about COVID.”

    “How about those fuckers at Fox yesterday? After two years of telling everyone COVID is a hoax, they trick you into taking an Uber to watch a tape,” the late-night host said in a jab at Fox’s mostly pre-recorded presentation. Kimmel had a go at other networks as well, labeling CBS the home for “old shows for old people” and calling out NBC’s Olympics ratings as “the only thing sadder than the finale of ‘This Is Us.’” He joked that YouTube’s upfront shouldn’t have been approved because “YouTube isn’t television—YouTube is medicine we use to tranquilize our children” and that Netflix has lost so much money, “I hear they might not even be able to get Emily back from Paris.”

    Of course, the comedian brought it home by turning on the House of Mouse itself:

    “Don’t even think about KPIs or DTC or ratings or if people are watching our shows or any of that stuff,” he said. “Just remember this: This company owns everything. We own Mickey Mouse. We own Spider-Man. We own the Muppets, the Simpsons, the Kardashians, ‘Encanto.’ We own it all. We have enough power to build the Deathstar, which is another thing we own. We’re Disney … Don’t fucking test us.”

    Rewind: TV characters beloved by ad industry leaders when they were kids

    Lizzo says she invented clickbait

    Lizzo, reminiscing at YouTube Brandcast at the Imperial Theater in New York on Tuesday, said she “invented clickbait.” (Yes, Lizzo really got around this week.) She was referring to a clip titled “Backstage at Red Rocks w/Bjork,” which she posted to YouTube in 2011, before she ever made it big. The clip has about 22,000 views—a pittance compared to the 286 million views Lizzo’s music video for “Truth Hurts” has received. But the 2011 video was clickbait, because Björk was not actually in it (though she technically was).

    “It was just me looking at a picture of Björk,” Lizzo explained with a laugh. “I got so many thousands of cuss-outs in Icelandic. They was cussing my ass out, but I’m so grateful to YouTube for having a place where I could express myself, where I could post videos like that, so I can look back at my journey. I can see people cussing me out in real-time 10 years ago.”

    Icelandic cuss-outs aside, she added that, “Positivity is so powerful and YouTube helps me spread that message.”

    Lizzo was one of about a dozen stars who made their way through YouTube’s talent machine and promoted the platform at Brandcast. Despite Kimmel’s joke that the digital platform doesn’t belong among this week’s presenters (see above), YouTube positioned itself as a formidable player thanks to its high connected TV viewership.

    YouTube executives produced the show for media buyers to sell the service to TV advertisers and introduced new tools to appeal to those more comfortable with the traditional TV market. 

    And YouTube execs including Google’s President of the Americas Allan Thygesen offered a nostalgic message, too. Thygesen reflected on the evolution of TV, saluting the medium and its history of upfront dealmaking. He declared that YouTube is taking over where TV left off, and was pretty pointed in his critique of traditional TV. “We continue to see YouTube outperform TV,” he said.

    “Now, this is the upfronts, right—it’s a celebration of television,” Thygesen added. “And at its peak, as many of us remember, the promise of network television was that you could reach everyone—it was a great selling point—but the reach numbers of linear TV have been going in the wrong direction for a long time.”

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