ViacomCBS Plots May 19 Virtual Showcase for TV Upfront

ViacomCBS intends to return to the industry’s “upfront week” to showcase new programming, a sign that the media industry is working to bring back a few traditions as the world continues to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

The presentation will be virtual, as it was last year, and will take place May 19, a ViacomCBS spokesperson confirmed. But the move shows the media sector hoping to bolster a more traditional business schedule. Last year, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, Discovery and WarnerMedia held streaming-video presentations earlier than expected, as much of the advertising business tried to work though a chaotic time during which TV productions were delayed and sports events cancelled.

Disney has already announced it intends to hold a virtual presentation in May for its overall media portfolio. ViacomCBS also intends to highlight all the elements of the company, not just the CBS broadcast TV network. Ad buyers will no doubt be interested to see if the company will detail any opportunities around Paramount Plus, the new streaming-video hub the company intends to launch on the back of its CBS All Access service.

U.S. media companies use the industry’s annual “upfront” ad-sales session to line up advertising commitments for the bulk of the next programming cycle. The pandemic threw last year’s process into disarray, with big clients demanding changes to the system and more flexibility in when they had to put down money. Some sectors, including movie studios and travel marketers, have yet to return to normal ways of doing business.

The nation’s five English-language broadcast networks could have seen the volume of ad commitments they secured for their next cycle of primetime programming fall by at least 9.3% to 14.6%, according to Variety estimates, marking the first time since 2015 that upfront estimates have sagged. Based on conversations with media buyers and other executives, Variety estimates NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and the CW secured between $8.2 billion and $9.8 billion for their 2020-2021 primetime schedules, compared with between $9.6 billion and $10.8 billion for primetime in the 2019-2020 season. In 2019, upfront volume surged between 5.5% and 7.4% over 2018.

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