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Upfront Notebook: ABC Emphasizes Storytelling In New Media Landscape

Opening its upfront Tuesday with clips of Frozen, Captain America and Star Wars interspersed among its own shows, ABC seemed to be hoping to have some of The Walt Disney Company’s recent success rub off on its struggling broadcast business.

In her last upfront before settling into a director’s chair, Anne Sweeney, outgoing cochairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney-ABC Television Group, said that the montage showed that “the Walt Disney Company continues to build on our heritage as one of the greatest storytellers in history.”

Sweeney added that “collectively, these brands deliver more great moments for our viewers and great opportunities for all of you,” referring to the ad buyers and advertisers in the audience.

ABC has been an early adopter of new technology, and this year Sweeney pointed out the way viewers are migrating to mobile. “In this mobile world, every device can be a television,” she said, and that changes all aspects of the industry from content to distribution to advertising.

She also previewed features that are being added to the Watch ABC app, including an option that allows viewers to watch multiple camera angles at once, or have social media access share the screen with programming and an easy way to share clips from shows while they air. All of which should translate into a more engaged viewer.

President of ABC sales Geri Wang highlighted new ways to take advantage of technology including a test of programming buying.

“Your investment in ABC Unified makes sense. Your advertising, delivered across our great shows, however they are viewed,” Wang said. "And we have more to accomplish. As quickly as new opportunities emerge, we’re going to enhance our Unified offering. We’re rolling out better measurement, adding more platforms, and expanding dynamic ad serving to VOD.”

Wang, who spoke at the ESPN upfront earlier in the day, was joined by ESPN’s president, global cusomer marketing and sales, Ed Erhardt at ABC’s, to talk about a project ABC and ESPN are working on together. “In 2015, our networks will be the place to ring in the New Year,” Wang said, pointing to live events including New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and college fooball playoff games.

New Year’s Kickoff will be a great showcase opportunity. And that’s just one example,” Wang said.

But the key to the presentation was the new programming, and buyers found some shows they liked.

“The comedies looked stronger,” said Jackie Kulesza, senior VP and group director for video at media agency Starcom. She pointed to shows including Black-ish, a sitcom about an upscale African American family. “The diversity point they made is important.”

As for ABC’s assessment of the video landscape and how that will affect the market, Kulesza said that it was important to keep talking about the way consumer behavior is changing, but “we’ve been in a multi-screen environment for a few years now.”


Always a highlight of ABC’s upfront is late night host Jimmy Kimmel’s skewering of media sales and media buyers. This year was no exception.

Among Kimmel’s best Lines:

“Paul Lee says we’re No. 1. The ABC I work at is not No. 1. In fact we might need to crash under your couch.”

He noted that ABC had so many exciting shows, most about superheroes and fairytales. “We may be a terrible network but we’re a great birthday for 6 year olds.”

He said that while NBC was very pleased with itself for jumping up to become the No. 1 broadcast network this season, “C-SPAN could’ve been No. 1 with the Olympics. Those video screens at the gas station could’ve been No. 1 with the Olympics,” he said. “It’s weird to see NBC do well. It’s like your adult cousin who works at Arby’s got a master’s degree.”

Kimmel said CBS had a disastrous year. “They almost didn’t beat us,” he said. “People who watch CBS are like Sasquatch, I’ve heard reports they exist but I’ve never seen them,” he said.

Kimmel noted that he and his wife were “pregnatized,” and that as part of a super premium integration package, “ABC is offering your client naming rights to my baby. For a $25 million media spend, my baby will be named for your product – introducing Crest White Strips Kimmel to the market place. It’s a concept I call cervical integration.”

"Programmatic sales will do the same job you do without wasting seven hours on Facebook,” Kimmel said to the media buyers in the audience. “You’ll all be bartending at Applebee’s in two years.”

He said ABC’s event shows will last 10 episodes, while its other series might run fewer. “Don’t get attached to any of these shows – it’s like adopting a kitten with cancer. Too much? You’re going to hate our new show, Kittens with Cancer.”

“You can spend dollars with CBS, NBC, Google but dying in your beds years from now, wouldn’t you be willing to trade your days for the chance to come back here to the year 2014 and say, I got very drunk and spent $10M on an ABC show called Selfie. Let’s not do this again next year.”