2001-2011: Upfront Week Adapts to Changing TV Ad Landscape

By Anna Sekula August 10, 2011, 8:45 AM EDT

Photo: © Caitlin Casella 2008

Upfront Week, the well-established practice of the big broadcast networks presenting fall prime-time lineups to media buyers and ad agencies, is perhaps one of New York’s longest-running examples of client entertaining. The single week in May hasn’t changed too much in the past 10 years—the parade of stars and executive schmoozing of the most recent iteration bear striking similarities to the big productions and parties of, say, 2003.

However, when the Writers Guild of America’s 100-day strike delayed TV show production during the 2007-2008 season and budgets took a nosedive in 2008, the festivities shifted. NBC canceled its traditional show, replacing it in 2008 with the “NBC Universal Experience”—an immersive tour of its various properties at its Rockefeller Center headquarters—and a series of private meetings it dubbed the “infront” in 2009. ABC, CBS, and the CW pared down presentations and cut after-parties.

And this gave smaller TV companies an opportunity to throw their hats in the ring. Now broadcast networks compete with the likes of adult-oriented Adult Swim, reality-focused Bravo, and summer ratings champ USA Network before and during their big presentations in mid-May. Recent years have seen Turner Entertainment Networks’ TruTV woo with a splashy 45-minute presentation and live performance by Kid Rock; Bravo put on an interactive, brand-centric reception; USA plug its shows with talent and no network brass; and Syfy parlay its sponsorship of the Tim Burton retrospective at MoMA and Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark into venues for its presentations.

“As long as media agencies and their clients are interested in gathering in one place for one week, the Upfronts will continue to happen and be very important to this industry,” said Rick Haskins, the CW’s executive vice president of digital, new technologies, marketing, and brand strategy, in 2009. “Everybody’s business model is different…but packaging series previews and young stars into an upfront program is part of the image we have to sell.”

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