05/17/23: Cynopsis Upfront Report: Wednesday


Cynopsis Medias First Morning Read
Wednesday May 17, 2023

On the Ground During Upfront Week: Wednesday

The ad crowd continued to pack the house at this year’s Upfronts, despite the WGA strike. Talent leaned heavily towards sports and news, as actors showed solidarity with the picketing writers, but performers weren’t entirely absent thanks to pre-recorded videos. Here are insights and highlights from Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and more.

“When the imagination is limitless, life’s possibilities are endless,” said “Grey’s Anatomy” star Ellen Pompeo in a sizzle reel that opened up Disney’s Upfront at the Javits Center on Tuesday evening. Rita Ferro, president of Disney advertising sales and partnerships, reminded the audience, “Storytelling is what distinguishes Disney. We’ve been cultivating it for a century. In this area of great change, creativity and innovation continue to be the cornerstone of all we do at Disney.” And that includes engaging diverse audiences. “When people see themselves on the screen, it stays with them,” said Ferro. “It builds community and fandom. You saw it in the opening sizzle – we have the best storytellers who understand culture and how we talk to communities in relevant ways.”

ESPN and sports ran down the clock for the first hour of Disney’s presentation, which was the longest presentation of the week thus far. Serena Williams, Peyton Manning, Breanna Stewart, Angel Reese, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and more sports champions made their way to the stage to discuss their recent accomplishments and TV coverage, and even some new series. “In the Arena: Serena Williams” will be “an unflinching account of [Williams’] life and [her] 23 Grand Slam victories, not counting doubles.” Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who made headlines when he suffered cardiac arrest on the field last year, received a standing ovation from the audience as he joined ESPN anchors on stage.

Another highlight of the presentation was the sight of Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Ryan Seacrest and 100 samurai stunt performers running through the aisles to promote the upcoming series “Sh?gun.” “Unrivaled” was the buzzword in Disney’s talks, spanning sports, reality TV, news and film.

Programming highlights from Disney include:
· “The Kardashians” on Hulu was renewed for 20 additional episodes.
· Pat McAfee joined ESPN for the “Pat McAfee Show” in a multiyear deal.
· “The Golden Bachelor,” premiering on ABC, will offer an opportunity for love to a man “in the autumn of his life.”
· “Secret Invasion” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Don Cheadle premieres June 21.
· “Echo” from Marvel Studios launches new episodes on November 29.
· “Loki” season two, starring Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson and Ke Huy Quan, premieres October 6.
· “The Acolyte” with Amandla Stenberg debuts next year.
· “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” launches on June 30, and the entire “Indiana Jones” catalog will stream on Disney+ starting May 31.
· “Skeleton Crew” of Lucasfilms is currently in production.
· Zoe Saldaña-led “Ahsoka” will kick off streaming in August.
· Pixar’s first original series, “Win or Lose,” premieres with eight episodes in December.
· “9-1-1” is coming to ABC.
· “Only Murders in the Building” season three streams on Hulu on August 8.
· OWN Networks’ “Black Cake” is in production.
· “The Bear” season two, called the “largest production in FX history,” premieres June 22.

So how’d it go? Rita Ferro told Cynopsis she was “thrilled” with the outcome of the company’s presentation, noting that “sports and streaming are driving our business.”


John Halley, Paramount’s President, Advertising, might second the idea that streaming is a major opportunity. “Our growth in streaming has been meteoric: Paramount+ has added more subscribers since its launch than any other streaming service,” he told Cynopsis. “It’s clear that the viewing migration has happened, and continues to evolve. We have the strategies and the assets to attract massive audiences. We have a networked ad platform that reaches audiences wherever they are, and are extremely well positioned to capture share as advertising becomes increasingly digitally activated. We have the scale and capabilities to create efficiency and effectiveness for our advertising partners.”

“What you’re about to see is not exactly the show we expected to do today,” acknowledged Warner Bros. Discovery’s Chief US Advertising Sales Officer, Jon Steinlauf, onstage at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. “We made the decision to only have executives on stage, out of respect for our talent and the WGA.” Added Chairman and CEO and HBO and Max Content Casey Bloys, “Let me just start by saying I’m hopeful that a fair resolution is found soon with the writers, that would of course return talent to this stage, let’s be honest, making this a far more entertaining show.”

The emphasis at WBD’s event was on the big swings the company is making across storytelling, authenticity and cultural conversations. Encouraging media buyers in the audience to “dream bold here,” company execs introduced two new innovative formats: WBD Stream and Warner Bros. Discovery Fusion. The former offers access to Warner Bros. Discovery’s portfolio of brands across digital streaming touchpoints, including “every device and every stream.” The latter, which takes it “all to the next level,” is a cross-promotion platform that drives awareness and sponsorship for key initiatives. An example is Warner Bros.’ theatrical release this summer of “Barbie”: In July, HGTV will present the original series “The Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge,” with Walmart and Chevy integrated as sponsors. “That is the power of partnership. That is the power of Warner Bros. Discovery,” said Steinlauf.

Warner Bros. Discovery’s upcoming programming roster includes:
· “The Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge” set a streaming date for this July.
· Season two of “And Just Like That…” premieres June 22 on Max.
· Custom content series “The Virus Hunt” combines the power of CNN with the endemic environments of Discovery and Science channels.
· CNN unveiled three new series: “Columbia,” “TinderBox” and “Spy Wars.”
· Bleacher Report is expanding its partnership with Shaquille O’Neal and “Shaq Cam.”
· “The Lazarus Project” was picked up for season two on TNT, with a sneak peek to air after the Stanley Cup finals game on June 3.
· In her first project since ending her syndicated run, Ellen DeGeneres is coming to Discovery for “Saving the Gorillas: Ellen’s Next Adventure.”
· Selena Gomez is joining the Food Network family for two new projects, launching during this year’s holiday season and in 2024.
· “Elf on the Shelf” gets its run on Food Network.
· Jason Momoa will serve as the master of ceremony for the 35th anniversary of “Shark Week” this year, on Discovery.
· After reaching 13.4 million viewers last year, “Puppy Bowl XX” returns on February 11, 2024.
· “Love and Marriage” heads to Detroit, and “90 Day Fiancé” gets a “Last Resort” spinoff.
· Michael Bay is creating a new true crime docuseries at Investigation Discovery, while Octavia Spencer is leading ID’s “Lost Women of Highway 20.”
· Prank competition comedy show “The Joe Schmo Show,” hosted by Cat Deeley, is in the works at TBS, which is also recreating “Dinner and a Movie”
· “All Elite Wrestling” is getting two more hours of primetime with “AEW: Collision.”
· Conan O’Brien turns to Max for “Conan O’Brien Must Go,” a new international travel series


Goodway Group’s Chief Media Officer Stephani Estes weighed in on how the writers’ strike, currently in week three, could affect upfront negotiations. “From a buy side perspective, the WGA strike means that we’ll have to be prepared to pivot to available inventory and that could be beneficial for other video platforms, like social, streaming services, and FAST channels. This year’s changing dynamics mean that flexibility will be even more crucial in negotiations as advertisers grapple with economic instability, increasing fragmentation and fluctuating viewership habits.”

Leading up to the next presidential race, both Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery addressed the importance of journalistic values in today’s climate. ABC News’ David Muir said the network values “journalism beyond the headlines,” while over at CNN, CEO Chris Licht said, “We’ve prioritized reporting over punditry, to separate the news from the noise.” Starting next month, CNN’s onscreen look and feel is getting a makeover with a new graphics package, which Licht called a “significant improvement” that was “long overdue.”

Following her CNN Town Hall with former President Trump, “CNN This Morning” anchor Kaitlan Collins is officially taking over as anchor for the 9p primetime spot, following “Anderson Cooper 360.” Said Collins, “The new show is going to feature thoughtful perspectives, spirited conversations and respectful debate around the day’s top news.” All-stars Charles Barkley and Gayle King are also joining the primetime team with their hour-long program “King Charles,” airing Wednesdays.


Seen & Overheard

CNN CEO Chris Licht said of the network’s new graphics package, “It’s clean, modern and very easy to look at – just like Anderson Cooper.”

At Disney’s afterparty, guests walked through a 42-foot-wide Mickey Mouse ear arch, and past an experiential exhibit celebrating costumes and props from films such as “Hocus Pocus,” “Cruella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “Iron Man,” “Loki,” “Maleficent,” “The Mandalorian,” “Star Wars” and more.

A specialty cocktail, Ginfinity and Beyond, was available at Disney’s Upfront afterparty, as well as a selection of bao buns, crudités, caviar and more.

When unveiling her new ESPN series onstage, Serena Williams teased that she would have revealed she is expecting another child at Disney’s Upfront, if the Met Gala hadn’t happened two weeks prior.

SportsCenter’s Elle Duncan, wearing a hot pink suit, said, “I feel like Barbie would be like, ‘Elle, chill.’”

Eli Manning showed off his dance moves in a pre-recorded video for his show with brother Peyton on “Monday Night Football,” available on ESPN 2 and ESPN+. Said Peyton Manning, “On our show, I try to imagine what it would be like if I was still on the field, while Eli sits around and tries to come up with different ways to make fun of the size of my head.”

Tomorrow, we’ll fill you in on what YouTube and Netflix have in store.

Cynopsis Team

Lynn Leahey
Editorial Director

Kerry Smith
Division President
Access Intelligence

Robbie Caploe
VP/Group Publisher

Executive Director of Sales
Albert Nassour
Cynopsis Job Listings Sales
John Cox


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