Television pilots season is almost to an end, and you know what that means—the Upfronts are just around the corner. Held in New York each year, the Upfronts are a gathering of TV networks who proudly display their accomplishments and plans for the future before potential advertisers. This year, trends are already starting to emerge that will shape TV programming and the marketing thereof.
Appealing To Digital Natives
Since the dawn of the entertainment industry, every marketing executive’s goal has been to tap into “what all the kids are doing.” The difference now is that “all the kids” are digital natives—requiring a more interactive approach to marketing the next big TV show.
Cartoon Network is leveraging the Upfronts season to appeal to their digital native audience across multiple platforms with a slate of digital and mobile content. The network’s plans include six new series, seven returning shows and more than 20 original mobile and console games.
“This generation of kids is the creator and maker, and all about participation,” Jill King, senior vice president of marketing and partnerships for Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang, told AListDaily. “We want to break new grounds and deliver new ideas to kids for them to creatively express themselves. A good example is The Powerpuff Girls activation of the avatar maker, called “Powerpuff Yourself.” Within the first week, we had 12 million avatars created. I say that very proudly because I think that’s a great example of us really speaking to them.”
Let The Games Begin
As esports continues its upward trend, and profitability, networks like ESPN and others will no doubt continue this trend—if not take it to a new level.
“For the Upfronts this year, I’m expecting to see two things,” SuperData CEO, Joost van Dreunen told AListDaily. “One—a heavier emphasis on esports as it has become a more established content category, and two—a more prominent place for game-related content. Gaming video content is proving to be a key driver for the adoption of new distribution and business models among younger audiences. I expect there to be a focus on the blending of gaming culture and more established TV programming. [We have already] seen mainstream shows like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon [that] regularly feature video games and VR technology. The next step is to build programs around these new technologies and audiences.”
Nicole Pike, director of games at Nielsen agrees that esports will be an effective way for advertisers to branch out into new demographics.
“I believe advertisers will start taking a closer look at esports programming, primarily as a way to diversify their efforts to resonate with younger viewers,” Pike told AListDaily. “Given the prevalent use of ad blockers during streamed esports broadcasts, TV could be a more viable way to reach this audience via traditional advertising. That being said, sponsorship remains the more authentic way to be noticed in the eSports space.”
(Editor’s Note: Nicole Pike’s quote was added on April 12, one day after the original publishing of this piece.)
More Of What Works
It may seem like common sense to keep doing what works, but there’s always the case of the “favorite” show not getting renewed. Thus far in Upfronts season, many network announcements have favored existing, successful franchises over a complete overhaul on programming. While there will be plenty of new shows to go around, expect more lifestyle shows and original dramas, because that’s where advertisers are spending.
AMC’s networks host 34 percent of ad-supported original shows based on live, plus three-day ratings among adults ages 18-to-49, according to Ed Carroll, COO of AMC Networks, per Broadcasting Cable. “When you look at the share of audience for high quality drama, you will find that AMC represents about a third of it. Between AMC and FX, those two networks would represent almost half of it.”
Speaking of FX, hit shows like The Americans, Fargo and Archer aren’t going anywhere, as made evident at the network’s Upfront event. Walmart, Booking.com and Almond Breeze will be integrated sponsors for Food Network when Iron Chef returns as Iron Chef Gauntlet.
Volkswagen, Walmart and Popeye’s will sponsor Food Network Star, which comes back for another season once Iron Chef Gauntlet concludes.
Good News, Bad News
Potentially good news for TV advertisers is the stability of produced content, as opposed to sites or videos that could be deemed offensive. While more brands pull their money out of YouTube, some of that may be funneled into this year’s fall lineup instead.
The bad news is that while the Upfronts will have no shortage of programs and promises, there is one group who may be absent—the writers. As the Writers Guild of America noted in its letter to ad buyers, the networks won’t be able to promise full seasons of their scripted series for next season in the event of a strike.
Should a strike occur and continue for over a month, fall season TV could be pushed from late September to October, affecting ad purchasing decisions.