Paramount To Ditch Longtime May Upfront Presentation At Carnegie Hall In Favor Of “Intimate Gatherings” With Ad Buyers

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Signaling the end of a media business ritual, Paramount Global has indicated it will not host an upfront presentation for ad buyers at Carnegie Hall next May, instead planning “intimate gatherings” with advertisers in April.

Paramount ad chief John Halley just announced the change in a staff memo. (Read it below.) Because “new realities call for new approaches,” Halley wrote, “the event needs to evolve to meet this moment.”

The annual May event, initiated by CBS decades ago and then continued under the auspices of Viacom, ViacomCBS and Paramount, served as the grand finale of broadcast TV upfront week in New York. For many years, especially as CBS built up its position as the top-rated network, the upfront was a spectacle of mainstream entertainment held in a century-old venue with almost 4,000 seats. The company would bring stars from Broadway and their own roster of scripted series, late night, sports and other realms onto the massive stage of Carnegie Hall before throwing a lavish after-party.

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For myriad reasons, the upfronts have been getting an overall rethink, particularly as companies scrutinize their expenses in a time of economic uncertainty. With linear TV in decline, less emphasis has been placed on the traditional upfront presentations, though billions of dollars of advertising is still bought and sold during the spring period ahead of the broadcast year. The glitzy stage shows trace their roots back to the three-network era, when automakers would make plans to push their new models each fall and networks planning their own fall season launches drew up plans to lure ad buys.

The shift at Paramount follows a change in the executive ranks. In September, Halley was elevated to president of advertising, with Jo Ann Ross segueing to an advisory role. Ross, one of the few execs from the CBS side to hold down a top exec post after Viacom and CBS reunited in 2019, was a signature figure in the CBS upfront over many years, often winking at the showmanship her job required. One year, she wore a dress emblazoned with a flashing sign reading, “Your Ad Here.”

NBCUniversal, another anchor tenant in broadcast upfront week, just confirmed it still plans to hold its traditional event at Radio City Music Hall next May 15. Disney and Fox, each of which broke with tradition last spring and held presentations in new venues, have yet to announce their 2023 plans. Another longtime fixture of upfront week, The CW, is under new management with its new owners at Nexstar Media Group, leaving its plans for next spring under question.

Here is Halley’s full memo:

Team, 

This continues to be a transformative period for our industry, and at Paramount, we know that new realities call for new approaches. The same principle goes for our 2023 Upfront presentation. As media investment becomes more complex, the event needs to evolve to meet this moment.

We are thrilled to announce that we will be hosting a series of high-impact, intimate gatherings in April for each of our major agency partners and their clients in lieu of our traditional presence at Carnegie Hall. We believe this expanded format will prove more effective in facilitating our upcoming Upfront discussions. 

Our targeted approach is intended to encourage conversation with our most trusted partners — to hear directly from the agencies and advertisers we serve and who form the bedrock of our business.

We also have a fantastic story to tell about the power of our popular portfolio and enhanced offerings, and the earlier timing will increase share of voice, in a more fitting setting for deeper engagement. 

I’m so proud of the incredible progress that we’ve made as we close out the year and welcome a new one. There is infinite possibility ahead, and I look forward to sharing more details with you soon as our plans come together. 

John

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