Unpacking the Upfronts: How TV’s Big Week Reflects Broader Industry Turmoil

That was the week that was, and last week was an upfronts week like no other.

Variety’s team of New York-based television and digital reporters offer a debrief on the 2023 programming presentations in New York on the latest episode of Variety‘s weekly podcast “Strictly Business.”

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The drama roiling the industry was evident in all the Writers Guild of America picket signs that swarmed around the major events held from May 15 to May 17. That added to the general madness of the week that is a television and advertising industry tradition but is starting to feel anachronistic in the streaming era. But the upfronts are still a hard habit to break. Netflix even crashed the party this year, albeit virtually.

Behind the velvet ropes, there were plenty of signals of the industry’s difficult transition from linear to streaming. Variety’s Jennifer Maas, Joe Otterson, Todd Spangler and Brian Steinberg offer highlights and insights from the shows, the schmooze and the strategy unveiled by Disney, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Fox, YouTube and more.

Steinberg, a veteran TV advertising reporter, noted that the industry’s transition from a business built on drawing big crowds live to appointment television has been upended by the on-demand format of the largest streaming platforms. The data offered by digital advertising makes it a different game than the days when advertising success hinged on catchy jingles and popular spokes-characters.

The last stronghold of old-school linear television is its ability to draw mass audiences for live events such as the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, Steinberg observes.

“The advertisers who buy TV today want to get big audiences so they can reach thousands of people in one fell swoop. They don’t have to spend X number of dollars to get one person here and one person there,” Steinberg says.

“The big things that do that these days are sports, live spectacles, and some streaming stuff. But the idea that new drama at 10 o’clock is going to do that (well) for you are kind of gone. Now primetime is anyone’s primetime. Your primetime might be at 1 in the morning whereas my kid’s primetime might be five o’clock in the afternoon. The networks are having to adjust and they are doing so by focusing more on streaming more on algorithms, more on software and more on technology that helps pinpoint where commercial should go. And with that, some of the creativity is coming out of it. And it’s all about science and technology, and as such, it’s not as exciting as it used to be,” he says.

Listen to the full conversation at the podcast link above.

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play, Stitcher, SoundCloud and more.

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