TV Upfront season is officially underway, and trends are already starting to emerge that will shape TV programming and marketing over the coming year.

Citing the acceleration of cord-cutting and OTT viewing, eMarketer predicts that US TV ad spending will drop slightly this year, from $70.22 billion in 2017 to $69.87 billion in 2018.

Engagement Beyond TV Sets

ESPN recently unveiled details about its upcoming ESPN+, which will be integrated into a redesigned mobile app this spring. The sports network is placing an emphasis on both traditional and digital content this year, hosting an Upfront presentation May 15 and then off to NewFronts for the first time.

Cartoon Network has long adopted multiple touchpoints for consumer engagement from online viewing to video games—something the network continues to tout during the 2018 TV ad-buying season.

The network is adding more than 30 new games and apps to its mobile and web offerings, which includes podcasts and AR/VR experiences.

“Cartoon Network continues to see growth in time spent on video and gaming platforms as kids are enjoying our content across a vast array of environments,” said Donna Speciale, president of Turner Ad Sales during Cartoon Network’s Upfront presentation. “The best way for brands to reach and engage our fans is through a total audience approach that captures all of these relevant spaces.”

Empowering Women

Fueled by #TimesUp and #MeToo feminist movements, several networks are placing a special emphasis on how they empower women through TV programming this year.

A+ E hosted a 50-minute show called “A+E: Women Up Front.” Led entirely by female presenters, the Upfront event featured emotional testimonies from show talent such as Olivia Munn, Queen Latifah and Toni Braxton about why they are proud to be associated with A+E.

Nickelodeon touted its dedication to empowering young girls during Women’s History Month—the month of its Upfront presentation—as well as women within its corporate culture.

“We have a long-standing history of creating strong female characters in leading roles and at Nickelodeon, our workforce is 60 percent women,” said Nickelodeon group president Cyma Zarghami. “Not only is that fairly unique today, but I believe it is a very valuable asset.”

Beginning March 1, Nickelodeon launched a new campaign called “That’s Me,” designed to celebrate diversity. The first round of spots highlighted history-making women, alongside some of the network’s female characters.

Data For Dollars

Viacom is offering more than TV programming this year—it wants to offer marketing services as well. The company, known for cable networks like Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET, has been busy acquiring agencies to fuel its marketing efforts.

In January, Viacom purchased WhoSay, an influencer-marketing agency, and event agency VidCon in February.

“This is a complete marketing solutions approach, rather than just an ad sales approach,” Sean Moran, head of marketing and partner solutions for Viacom, told Variety.

Last year, AMC Networks launched its own Agility data-driven advertising division that offers audience segmenting, targeting and TV planning. Ahead of its Upfront presentation, AMC formed its own data sales group to oversee its offerings to clients.

“The strong response to Aurora Video Targeting Solutions in the marketplace over the last year, and the expanded availability of this fully transparent planning tool in the 2018 Upfront, convinced us that the time was right for a dedicated data sales team,” said Scott Collins, president of advertising sales for AMC Networks, in a statement.