ViacomCBS couldn’t put its stars on stage, so it put them in a video.
In the first part of its virtual upfront presentation, the media company employed its on-air talent to make the point that the merger that combined Viacom with CBS late last year made the company “simply stronger” together.
The message was driven home with Zoom appearances by everyone from Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell at CBS News, to Jim Nantz and Tony Romo from CBS Sports, to James Corden, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah from late night to entertainment programming stars like Tom Selleck, Kevin Kostner, LL Cool J, JoJo Siwa and Iain Armitage.
The video message was made necessary by the Coronavirus, which prevented people from gathering in person in places like Carnegie Hall, where CBS usually holds its upfront this time of year.
Colbert noted that the virus has forced many businesses to make difficult choices and change the way they work. That includes ViacomCBS, led by Bob Bakish and George Cheeks. “By the way, if your cheeks seem backish, see a physician immediately. That’s one of the symptoms,” Colbert cracked.
Monday’s message was mostly about the company’s cable channels, but there was also a primer on the advanced advertising products that Viacom pioneered and CBS is adopting.
ViacomCBS president for advertising revenue Jo Ann Ross was grilled by 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker.
“For some time now 60 Minutes has been looking into advanced advertising. What we have uncovered is a strange cult with a language of their own. Followers who revere advanced advertising speak in sentences littered with cliches like targeting, optimize and powerful,” Whitaker said. “But 60 Minutes research uncovered something else, something more unsettling. Many in this cult nod their heads in unison when they hear phrases like optimize against reach, drive conversion and path to purchase. We have met many characters over our fifty two seasons: world leaders, scammers, sports stars and pop stars. But nothing prepared us for the queen of advanced advertising herself ViacomCBS's Jo Ann Ross who promised to explain it to us.”
“At ViacomCBS we are leading the way with advanced advertising with Vantage our advanced ad platform,” Ross said.
“Sure anyone can download a mixed integer linear programming algorithm, but unless you know how to refactor mixed data types into linear constraint packages. You just have no game,” she explained.
Ross said she has taken time during the quarantine to brush up on her advanced analytics.
"It's hard to believe how much time I've spent thinking about how to dynamically fluctuate the alpha values in elastic net regressions to trade off mild parsimony and coefficient dampening within ratings projection engines," she said. "You know, really really it helped me to relax. I really had fun with the data.”
On Tuesday, ViacomCBS plans to do part two of its upfront and release CBS’s primetime schedule.
“I for one am very excited about it. Let's be honest. It's been months since any of us have had plans two days in a row,” said Corden. “I so wish we were all together right now in New York City taking selfies in that weird room at the plaza, eating as much frozen yogurt as I can get out of those machines.”
On a somewhat more serious note, Corden noted the role television is playing during these socially distant times.
“All over America, there is one thing that brings us together every time. That little box in the corner of your living room. Well that and the fact that we've all gained like 15 pounds,” he said.
“Television is the thing that can give us the collective experience we have been so sorely missing. For information on what's happening, come together and watch our news. When you need some laughter, come together and watch our comedies. When you want some excitement come together and watch our dramas,” he said. “And when you want to see what some of the biggest celebrities in the world look like when they do their own hair and makeup you can watch our late night shows here. Nobody is excluded. You are part of this network and you're part of our family.”
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