Discovery, NBCU, WarnerMedia, Fox axe live upfronts over COVID-19 concerns

WarnerMedia, Discovery, NBCUniversal and Fox were among the raft of media companies Thursday (March 12) to cancel their live upfronts, scheduled to take place this May in New York, in favor ...
March 13, 2020

WarnerMedia, Discovery, NBCUniversal and Fox were among the raft of media companies Thursday (March 12) to cancel their live upfronts, scheduled to take place this May in New York, in favor of digital presentations.

A number of reports also circulated that Disney and CBS are re-evaluating the live presentations over concerns around the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus.

Discovery said its decision was made “out of an abundance of caution and care for the health and safety of employees, talent and business partners.”

The company has instead prepared an “alternative digital experience,” with details expected to be announced at a later date.

“With Discovery’s increased scale and reach, we were proud and excited to showcase our expanded portfolio of beloved brands and talent, for the first time, during the traditional broadcast Upfront week. The decision to cancel is bittersweet but unequivocally the right one,” Jon Steinlauf, Discovery’s chief U.S. ad sales officer, said in a statement. “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.”

The reboot of Discovery Channel’s Monster Garage (pictured), Investigation Discovery’s Torn from the Headlines: New York Post Reports, and HGTV’s Celebrity IOU with hosts Jonathan and Drew Scott are among Discovery’s most recently announced series.

NBCU, meanwhile, will televise and stream its upfront presentation. Its “new” presentation will include talent from across its portfolio and platform, and preview new programming announcements and trailers.

Details will be announced at a later date, NBCU stated in a release.

“At this moment in time, we can embrace a new future that puts our audiences and our partners first. This year’s upfront presentation will ensure everyone’s safety, while allowing us to give fans and marketers a preview of the upcoming season,” Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships at NBCU, said in a statement.

Fox will also host a digital presentation for the advertising community, Realscreen confirmed, with details to be announced in the coming weeks.

Marianne Gambelli, president of advertising and sales at Fox, said in a statement: “While we always look forward to seeing our brand and agency partners at the Beacon Theatre, the health and well-being of our clients, talent and colleagues is our top priority. We are reimagining our presentation to engage our clients using a new format that will highlight the quality content the industry expects from Fox. As the leading broadcast network this season, we have so much to build on and share, and we look forward to doing that in this new way.”

In a statement provided to Realscreen, AT&T-owned WarnerMeda said its “altering” plans for this year’s upfront presentation.

“The health and safety of the advertising community, our employees and production partners is our absolute priority,” said Gerhard Zeiler, chief revenue officer of WarnerMedia, and Kirk McDonald, chief business officer of Xandr — the advertising and sales division of AT&T . “We have the technological and creative means to showcase our unified WarnerMedia/Xandr message through a unique video experience and will do just that on May 13.”

The news follows decisions by A+E Networks and AMC Networks to cancel live upfronts scheduled for March.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.