COVID-19 Worries Kill NYC’s Upfront Parade


Year after year, on the Monday following Mother’s Day, hundreds of advertising executives, CMOs, media buyers and broadcast TV C-Suiters engaged in a three-day cavalcade of hype, braggadocio, previews and promotional puffery in what has become the annual Upfront Week.

Some wondered why the upfronts were still necessary, given the growth of OTT services and the steady decline in prime-time viewership year-over-year.

This year, broadcast media’s upfronts are gone. But, it is due to the growing global COVID-19 pandemic.

With New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declaring a state of emergency and shutting down the MTA, every major Upfront presenter killed their big bashes for marketers and media buyers — some two months before they were even scheduled.

The companies include Discovery, which canceled its live Upfront presentation in New York scheduled for May 12 at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall. The decision, the company said, “was made out of an abundance of caution and care for the health and safety of employees, talent and business partners.”

Instead, Discovery has prepared “an alternative digital experience to showcase the company, portfolio, and advanced advertising products to its valued clients and agency partners, with details to be announced at a later date.”

Discovery U.S. Ad Sales Officer Jon Steinlauf said, “The decision to cancel is bittersweet but unequivocally the right one. We have a terrific story to tell and more opportunities and products than ever for current and prospective advertisers. We will just tell that story in a way that best suits these unprecedented times.”

Also taking their upfront presentations online: The Walt Disney Co. and the Hulu Newfront presentation; The CW Network; ViacomCBS; and NBCUniversal.

NBCUniversal’s is perhaps the most lavish, with the 2019 event at Radio City Music Hall featuring a big rollout for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which was a disappointment when it premiered in January 2020 on NBC. It also incorporates Telemundo, the Spanish-language network owned by NBCU.

For ViacomCBS, a Carnegie Hall event had been in the works, and it would have been the first since the reunification of CBS Corp. with Viacom.

Meanwhile, in Aventura, Fla., the ANA’s Media Conference scheduled for March 25-27 has been canceled.