In a return to in-person upfronts following a two-year hiatus, media executives pitched advertisers their entertainment portfolios with bigger-than-life presentations followed by evening bashes. Some were hits, some were misses.
Best and worst of TV upfronts 2022
Our opinionated rundown of the week’s best and worst:
Some of the highlights of presentations from media giants were the jokes delivered by their respective late-night stars, including Seth Meyers (for NBCUniversal), Stephen Colbert (for Paramount), and Jimmy Kimmel (for Disney). By far, the comedian who commanded the loudest roars from advertisers was Kimmel, who appeared by Zoom during Disney’s event at Manhattan’s Basketball City on Tuesday.
“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,” Kimmel joked, to applause and laughter from the attendees. (See “Biggest upfront flop,” below.) Swipes at other networks were a hit as well (of course)—particularly upfronts newcomer YouTube.
“YouTube isn’t television—YouTube is medicine we use to tranquilize our children,” he joked. Even Netflix wasn’t safe, with Kimmel quipping about its revenue woes. “I hear they might not even be able to get Emily back from Paris,” he said.
Most exhausted bit
Everybody had a COVID-19 joke. It was a huge play during Kimmel’s stand-up (as well as the reason he wasn’t in attendance in person). “I’m alive right now—I’m about three miles away from a place where people don’t care about COVID: Fox,” Kimmel said. “I mean, I’m bummed about this, I really don’t like doing this remotely—I don’t mean remotely, like on Zoom. I mean, I don’t remotely like doing this. But what the hell?”
Later, Colbert would joke at Paramount’s upfront that Kimmel stole his bit, as the comic has tested positive for COVID-19 twice. He told the audience that he could “lick each and everyone one of you” and avoid contracting the virus again, given his acquired immunity.
Best upfronts parties
There were three “official” evening parties in total—one Monday evening hosted by Fox, Disney’s post-event cocktail reception on Tuesday (many executives weren’t present—they zipped away almost immediately after the event) and a event from Paramount following its presentation at Carnegie Hall.
Paramount closed out Wednesday evening with a banger. The company held its party at a venue about a 10-minute walk from its upfront. Executives were present to schmooze with guests in a five-story interactive space with food and bars available throughout. The event played on legacy department stores, and sources told Ad Age the event took months to plan. (It succeeded.)
Univision hosted a lively celebration following its upfront at New York’s Javits Center. For a party thrown before 1 p.m., Univision pulled it off spectacularly. As music blared over the speakers in the event space, attendees swarmed the bar and food stations, which featured made-to-order tacos as well as tiny burgers with sides of fries (a recurring menu item at this year’s upfronts).
Disney’s seating at its upfront Tuesday evening was so bad it was a topic of conversation for the duration of the week. While VIPs were seated on comfortable couches situated near the stage during the event, most attendees were seated stadium-style on Basketball City’s bleachers. The event clocked in at about two hours total, which only exacerbated the problem.
Best musical performances
NBCU clearly didn’t take its position as upfronts leader (it kicked off the week on Monday) lightly—its presentation at Radio City Music Hall included fiery live musical performances from Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus (who delivered a great—though very loud—rendition of “Wrecking Ball”).
Stevie Wonder was arguably the biggest star of the upfronts, though. The legendary singer performed “Superstition” for advertisers on Thursday morning at The CW’s event—the final presentation of upfronts week.
Biggest upfront flop
Perhaps the most notorious flop of the week, Fox gathered marketers for an in-person viewing of a canned presentation. Nary a clap was heard as floor-to-ceiling screens cycled through prerecorded pitches from Tubi, Fox Sports, Fox Entertainment and Fox News for more than an hour.
Most overused celebrity
Nicole Byer, who hosts TBS’s “Wipeout” and “Nailed It” on Netflix, appeared on stage at the NBCU, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount presentations.
Best dance moves
Univision’s ad sales chief Donna Speciale showed off her dance moves. In a pre-taped segment, Speciale was seen learning how to do the salsa—an effort meant to show Speciale, who is not Hispanic, learning the culture of the Spanish-language media giant.
Speciale was flipped, dipped and thrown over her dance partner’s shoulder to whoops and applause from the audience—certainly the standout moment for media executives during the weeklong event. “That was a bucket list. That was a fucking bucket,” Speciale told her audience after the clip played.