Madison Avenue’s interest in digital ads, sports and new concepts tied to bolstering messages of diversity helped Disney close a fast-paced upfront that saw more than 40% of total dollars committed to the company go to streaming and interactive venues, the latest sign of how advertisers are working differently with some of the nation’s most traditional media companies.
“We led with streaming this year. You always hear how broadcast leads in the upfront, and we saw an opportunity this year to change that and we did it well,” said Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising Sales, in an interview.
Advance commitments from advertisers grew the most in streaming and sports, according to people familiar with the matter, with overall commitments said to be up more than 10% in cable, sport and across the company’s overall broadcast portfolio. Ad commitments for linear primetime were on par with 2020, according to these people, when Variety estimates Disney’s ABC secured between between $1.66 billion and $2.18 billion, compared with between $1.95 billion and $2.42 billion for the 2019-2020 season.
The upfront has long hinged on the success of various networks’ primetime schedules, but in 2021, Madison Avenue is showing intense interest in both the wide-reach programming ABC, CBS and NBC show between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., and also ways to use streaming outlets like Hulu, Peacock, Tubi and Paramount Plus to connect to smaller audience niches in more precise fashion.
Disney is the latest media company to experience robust interest from advertisers in the industry’s annual “upfront” ad sales process, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of commercial inventory for their coming programing schedule. Like other TV networks this year, Disney pressed for significant increases in the rate of reaching 1,000 viewers, a metric known as a CPM that is central to these annual negotiations. Most broadcast networks sought CPM increases of between 16% and over 20%, according to media buyers and other executives.
Disney emphasized a new program aimed at lining up advertiser support for content that burnished messages about diversity, equity and inclusion. The company secured agreements from every major national buying agency, as well as from retail and financial-services advertisers, exceeding its goal for the program’s first year. Target and Google have signed to align with “Summer of Soul,” a music-themed documentary directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson that is slated to debut theatrically and via streaming.
The company saw demand from consumer-packaged goods marketers, financial-services firms, media and entertainment companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, retailersl, technology and telecommunications firms and travel and leisure advertisers.