TV Upfront

A&E Networks Abandons Glitzy Upfront Presentation

Audience Targeting, Native Ads Call For One-On-One Presentations, Exec Says

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Credit: UnReal Lifetime

A&E Networks won't be parading duck hunters, little women or Vikings out to ad buyers this spring, becoming the latest TV group to forego the typical glitzy upfront presentation.

Instead, the cable programmer, whose networks include its namesake channel, History, Lifetime and FYI, will meet with marketers and agencies individually over the next few months to discuss ways the company can create customized media opportunities for clients.

"We have been questioning the event for five years at least," said Peter Olsen, exec VP-national ad sales, A&E Networks.

The desire to incorporate more data and audience targeting into ad buys, as well as emerging native advertising opportunities, naturally require more personalized, one-on-one conversations.

The value of upfront presentations will likely be top of mind again this year. Traditionally the upfronts were about showing off networks' biggest stars and running flashy sizzle reels of new series. But in recent years conversations have turned more towards audience buying, with many ad sales executives leading conversations with data. And let's face it, research doesn't make for the most exciting party.

"Making general proclamations on a stage is not relevant any more," Mr. Olsen said.

Of course, there's something to be said about showcasing top executives and filling a room with some of the biggest TV stars.

"The stage still has an appeal and we will miss a little of that," Mr. Olsen said. "The talent in one room gives the message that we are a big player and culturally relevant. But if that's your only reason for doing an upfront, that's not a good reason."

A&E had been meeting with clients and agencies individually for some time on top of hosting the upfront presentation at the end of April or early May. By the time the big show rolled around, Mr. Olsen and his team had already spoken with most of the senior decision makers.

"That's another reason this was becoming a waste of time," Mr. Olsen said.

By eliminating the stage show, Mr. Olsen said the company can fully commit to customized presentations.

And as the calendar becomes cluttered with upfront presentations from broadcasters and nearly every cable channel big and small, as well as NewFronts events from digital platforms like YouTube and publishers like Conde Nast, it has become increasingly difficult to attract the attention of top media buyers and marketing executives. The sheer number of events has forced many of the high-level decision makers to skip presentations entirely.

This means many networks are shelling out a pretty penny for people who, come summertime, won't actually be involved in the negotiations for ad time in the upcoming fall season. And these shindigs certainly don't come cheap.

A&E isn't the only one questioning the usefulness of these presentations.

Discovery Communications discontinued its large-scale upfront hoopla last year for many of the same reasons as A&E. Discovery this year will once again host a road show instead of an upfront party.

While A&E isn't necessarily permanently abandoning the traditional upfront presentation, Mr. Olsen said that his gut tells him that the industry is transitioning to a 52-week selling cycle.

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