All May TV Upfront Events Canceled Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

ViacomCBS, NBCU, Fox, The CW, Disney and WarnerMedia to present their programming slates digitally

Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS

A slew of networks canceled their upfront presentations that were set for May’s “Upfront Week” amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. CBS, NBCUniversal, The CW, Fox, WarnerMedia, Disney and Discovery all scrapped their in-person events on Thursday.

The companies will now present their upcoming slates to ad buyers digitally. NBCU’s and Fox’s upfront were scheduled for May 11, while Disney and Discovery’s were supposed to be held on May 12. CBS and WarnerMedia were each set to go two days later on May 1, with The CW’s upfront slatted to close out the week on May 14.

Upfronts are a critical event on the industry calendar, when top advertisers get to see the upcoming fall television slates ahead of placing large advertising buys. The group on Thursday join A+E Networks, AMC Networks and Fox News in canceling its annual presentation to advertisers.

The coronavirus, which has sickened more than 129,000 around the world and killed more than 4,700 people, was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization Wednesday. In the U.S., confirmed cases have topped 1,000 people.

“While we always look forward to seeing our brand and agency partners at the Beacon Theatre, the health and well-being of our clients, talent and colleagues is our top priority,” said Fox’s president of advertising sales Marianne Gambelli. “We are reimagining our presentation to engage our clients using a new format that will highlight the quality content the industry expects from Fox. As the leading broadcast network this season, we have so much to build on and share, and we look forward to doing that in this new way.”

“With Discovery’s increased scale and reach, we were proud and excited to showcase our expanded portfolio of beloved brands and talent, for the first time, during the traditional broadcast Upfront week. The decision to cancel is bittersweet but unequivocally the right one,” said Jon Steinlauf, Discovery’s Chief U.S. Ad Sales Officer. “We have a terrific story to tell and more opportunities and products than ever for current and prospective advertisers. We will just tell that story in a way that best suits these unprecedented times.”

“We’ll miss Carnegie Hall and our agency dinners this year, but the health and safety of our clients and the ViacomCBS team comes first,” said Jo Ann Ross, President and Chief Advertising Revenue Officer, ViacomCBS Domestic Advertising Sales. “Our team has been planning for this possibility for weeks, and we have devised a digital showcase to unveil all of the premium content that we’re delivering throughout the company, from CBS Television Network and our robust cable portfolio across the Entertainment & Youth and Premium brands. We won’t miss a beat in engaging with clients around our unmatched offerings and solutions.”

“At this moment in time, we can embrace a new future that puts our audiences and our partners first. This year’s Upfront Presentation will ensure everyone’s safety, while allowing us to give fans and marketers a preview of the upcoming season,” said Linda Yaccarino, Chairman of Advertising & Partnerships, NBCUniversal. NBCUniversal will also televise its upfront presentation for regular viewers.

“The health and safety of the advertising community, our employees and production partners is our absolute priority, so we will alter our plans for this year’s Upfront presentation,” said Gerhard Zeiler, Chief Revenue Officer, WarnerMedia and Kirk McDonald, Chief Business Officer, Xandr. “We have the technological and creative means to showcase our unified WarnerMedia/Xandr message through a unique video experience and will do just that on May 13.”

“In light of recent developments and the current guidelines being set by health officials regarding COVID-19, The CW Network has decided to forego its traditional live upfront presentation scheduled for Thursday May 14 at City Center Theater in New York, as we join the community’s efforts to ensure that everyone’s health and safety is our top priority.  As a result, we are currently exploring alternative and innovative ways of communicating The CW’s overall strategy, showcase our new and returning programming and present our upcoming fall schedule to advertisers, press, the industry and our fans.  We will be sharing additional details as we move forward.”

“In light of recent events, and for the safety of our staff, talent, clients and partners, Disney Advertising Sales is reinventing both its Hulu Newfront and TWDC Upfront presentations,” said a Disney Advertising Sales spokesperson. “Production plans are already underway to develop two star-studded and innovative streaming events, showcasing the breadth and depth of Disney’s rich portfolio and infrastructure. We are committed to redefining how we bring clients the best storytelling and advertising opportunities. A more detailed announcement of alternative presentation plans will be forthcoming.”

The companies also collectively decided to call off 2020 L.A. Screenings event where new broadcast pilots are screened for international TV distributors. In a joint statement, Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony, ViacomCBS and Warner Bros. said they would “explore alternative options” for showcasing their shows for buyers.

“It is out of an abundance of caution, and with the health and well-being of our clients and employees at the forefront, we have collectively decided to not hold L.A. Screenings events this year and will instead explore alternative options in which to showcase our respective upcoming content,” the statement said. “While we look forward to hosting our clients at this time-honored industry event, in acknowledgement of – and out of respect for – the travel bans, travel restrictions and evolving public health concerns of our global client base, we believe that not having our clients and executives travel into Los Angeles from various locations around the world is the most responsible course of action. Each major U.S. international TV distributor will be individually communicating its alternative screening plans to clients soon.”