• TV Upfronts: How Advertisers Make or Break a Show

    by  • May 13, 2019 • Advertiser Accountability • 0 Comments


    This week marks the annual return of the TV network dog-and-pony show known as the “Upfronts.” During the Upfronts, TV broadcast and cable networks give top TV advertisers a sneak-peek at their fall TV schedule and new series scheduled to premiere in the next TV season. They also try to impress advertisers with lavish parties where media buyers can meet and mingle with top TV stars, all in the hopes that the advertisers will commit a portion of their advertising budget to these new shows “upfront,” before either TV critics or viewers at home have had a chance to opine on their relative merits.

    Advertiser support can make or break a series. Take, for example, the recently cancelled NBC series, I Feel Bad. After the first couple of episodes, the PTC reached out to sponsors, pointing out the show’s hypocritical habit of critiquing media behavior, while simultaneously indulging in and exploiting it.  Many of the companies that appeared on the first episodes did not return for subsequent episodes – only 1 of the 20 advertisers we reached-out to after the first month of the series, returned – and that one company was a local media buyer, not a national sponsor. Many of the top-dollar, blue-chip sponsors avoided the series, and the ad availabilities went to advertisers who only buy when the ad spots are cheap. That a lack of confidence from the advertiser community sealed this series’ fate seems evident, given that NBC renewed other series that had even lower ratings.

    By contrast, even shows that are struggling to find an audience might get another season pick up if they have enough support from the advertising community.

    Earlier this year, the PTC reached out to 200 top TV sponsors with a list of shows they could put their ad dollars behind without fear of associating their brands or corporate image with controversial or problematic content. All of the recommended series, which included Fresh Off the Boat, God Friended Me, The Orville, Manifest, and The Flash, have been renewed for another season.

    As advertisers weigh their options this week and make decisions about which programs they will support with their sponsorship dollars, they should carefully consider the overwhelming evidence that sponsoring family-friendly programming will help build brand equity, improve the ROI of their ad dollars, and even improve the chances that their ads will be remembered.

    In our conversations with TV sponsors in the past, we’ve often heard the argument that they can only advertise on the programs the networks are offering, and that there’s too much ad inventory and not enough family programming out there. But we’ve also heard the networks claim that they’re creating this content because that’s what advertisers want. It’s time to break the cycle, and for advertisers to take a stand for the kind of quality programming they would be proud to support.



    Ms. Henson is a noted expert on entertainment industry trends and the how the impact of entertainment affects children and the American popular culture at large. She also directs the organization’s Advertiser Accountability Campaign, which encourages companies to sponsor family-friendly entertainment. She previously supervised the research and program content analysis operations of the PT and produced a number of groundbreaking PTC studies that document the levels of graphic sex, violence and profanity on television. Some of those reports include: The Ratings Sham I & II, Dying to Entertain, Faith in a Box, The Sour Family Hour, The Blue Tube, and TV Bloodbath. She began her career with the PTC in 1997 as an entertainment analyst, documenting instances of inappropriate content on television. Ms. Henson has appeared on a variety of television shows including Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story, CNN Headline News’ ShowBiz Tonight, CNBC’s On the Money, MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, and CBN’s Newswatch. She is a frequent guest on radio talk shows across the country and has been quoted extensively in news sources such asEntertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Variety, Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg. Ms. Henson is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received a BA in Government. She resides in Falls Church, Va., with her husband and their son.

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