Disney’s Upfront by the Numbers

By Charlene Weisler

Disney’s highly anticipated upfront comes at the heels of its acquisition of Fox properties. So the event this year not only heralds in a new expansive era for the company, it also presented a synergy of established, previously frenemy properties. As part of their presentation, it was also announced that Disney has just acquired full operational control of Hulu with the ability to acquire full ownership at a future time.

Storytelling in all of its forms is a paramount vision for the network group, from ESPN (focusing on gaining more rights, weaving compelling stories and showcasing more live events), National Geographic (focusing on premium factual storytelling), FX (scripted shows) and Freeform (embracing disruptive voices).

In addition to a range of network specific content, Rita Ferro, President, The Walt Disney Company Advertising Sales and Partnerships, announced there were, “investments around data and technology. There has been tremendous advancement in that space with an emphasis on reach, effectiveness and delivering on those results that are important to our clients.”

Disney+, the OTT subscription service, loomed large with some of the properties slated to be included in the service and other waiting to hear. The aggregation of compelling content has been ramped up in this new expanding company with each network offering something for a different audience segment.

ESPN announced a deal with Caesars to be the official odds provider for the network for, as Connor Schell, EVP Content, ESPN, stated, “for fans interested in betting content.” He noted that in 2018, and for the 5th straight year, ESPN was “the top network in every key male demo,” and added that the network had the “best portfolio of rights across the industry for live events – 25,000 of them.” He proposed an aggressive social media strategy including 200 live shows on Twitter, all with advertising.

For FX CEO John Landgraf, there is, “a lot to figure out as to how this (acquisition) will work out in its optimal form.” But with an array of original scripted programming, the network has the inventory. “Over the past 15 years, we went from one to 15 scripted shows,” he stated, and then added, “but 15 scripted shows aren’t enough.” He is examining non-linear rights and expects to see “a lot of innovation about what can be done in this new system.” Rather than placing FX on Disney+, Landgraf sees Hulu as the best streaming service for his network.

Courteney Monroe, CEO, National Geographic, noted that her network is a recent addition to Disney and sets itself apart with “premium factual storytelling,” and “quality, excellence and distinctiveness above all else.” The network is adding scripted anthologies such as the Genius series and reaching bigger and broader upscale audiences. “Entertaining and smart are not mutually exclusive,” she concluded.

Tom Ascheim, President, Freeform, positions the network for young adult women and highlights inclusiveness. “We are embracing disruptive voices,” he explained and added that one of the benefits of the merger is that Freeform will air The Simpsons. “Millennials currently outnumber boomers,” he stated, “and we are the leading brand for that audience.”

Karey Burke, President ABC Entertainment, concluded the event with an overview of the new season’s schedule, stressing the importance of stability and the need to carefully craft every show before it’s ready to launch. “We are stabilizing the schedule and scheduling fewer new series,” she explained, “There are too many messages to get out there so we will have fewer and bigger launches. There is a value in nurturing the shows you already have.” ABC network is aiming for a strong female POV and this strategy is paying off. “ABC dominates with women. We are #1 since January,” she concluded.

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