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Upfronts 2022: TV Market Faces Big Questions as Presentations Start

CBS Upfront
The networks will again be tooting their horns in person during this week's upfront presentations. Pictured: Then-CBS ad sales chief Jo Ann Ross with Jon Batiste and Stay Human in 2019. (Image credit: CBS)

The 2022 upfronts will be different.

Each upfront takes on its own character, but 2022 will have its own character if only because buyers and clients are flocking to New York to take in the extravagant shows television companies put on in venerable venues like Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall.

Funny thing. After two years of being able to save millions by streaming upfront pitches, there were few calls to keep the upfront virtual. Everyone somehow decided, in this case at least, the old way remains the best way.

Given that, there are still some big questions that will be answered this week as the presentations roll out and in the next few weeks as negotiations over about $20 billion worth of advertising for the 2022-23 season take place. 

Here are a few of them.

How much money will be in the upfront this year?: Ask any ad-sales executive and they’ll tell you they really don’t know until buyers start registering their clients’ budgets. But push them a bit and they all expect the volume of commitments to be up from last year. Sure there are concerns about inflation, supply chain issues and even the lingering effects of COVID-19, but they’ll tell you this is a futures market and there are new auto models to launch, movies to open, medications to introduce and streaming subscriptions to sell. And guess what? You need TV to do that.

How fast will the market move? Last year’s market moved at a furious pace, with negotiations jumping off even before the presentations were done. That was a sharp contrast to the 2020 upfront, which stretched into September. But last year’s stampede resulted in record price increases -- something buyers and their clients would prefer not to see again. Even most sellers will tell you they don’t expect to see a rerun of last year’s big price hikes. Nevertheless, there were some people saying that some agencies have already started registering budgets, hoping to beat the rush and get pricing before the thin supply of traditional TV supply disappears.

How much upfront money will flow into digital? The short answer is a lot. Last year, NBCUniversal and Disney said about 40% of their volume was digital.  This year the big media companies continue to push their streamers, Hulu, Peacock, HBO Max, Paramount Plus, Pluto TV, Tubi and ViX. New to the party this year is the upcoming ad supported tier of Disney Plus, which is expected to launch before the end of the year and will be a part of this upfront. On a conference call with reporters Monday morning, Fox ad sales president Marianne Gambelli noted the explosive growth of Tubi. She said that while broadcast networks like Fox give advertisers reach they can’t get anywhere else, streamers like Tubi had extended that, reaching viewers who don’t watch traditional TV. She said Fox will be looking to fully monetize Tubi’s growth in the upfront, adding volume and getting “value” for it — indicating higher pricing.

Will the digital players get a piece of the pie? Of course. YouTube, which is pointedly holding its Brandcast on Tuesday of the traditional broadcast upfront week instead of during the NewFronts, is already huge and is said to be gunning aggressively for a bigger share of TV ad dollars. Roku is also ramping up its “streaming first” pitch, and smart TV-set makers Vizio, Samsung and LG are looking for more upfront business. Then there’s Netflix on the horizon. While it might not be ready for the upfront market, it has told staffers an ad-supported tier could be up and running by the end of the year.

Will buyers and sellers still be using Nielsen? Nielsen’s ratings will probably remain the most-used metric in this year’s market. New currencies are available, but it depends on who you talk to how and how much those new players will be used. Some sellers expect all deals to still be guaranteed based primarily on Nielsen, with some secondary guarantees using iSpot or Comscore or VideoAmp. Some buyers have committed to doing a percentage of their deals on alternative currencies. As with all things, the market will determine how this shakes out. ■

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.