Wednesday, May 20, 2020

ViacomCBS Touts Nickelodeon Programming at Remote Upfronts Event

Nickelodeon and BET got choice spots as ViacomCBS held its first remote upfronts event today (Monday, May 18) with the usual array of inside mocking from Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and James Corden.


The kids network and African American-focused network got standalone presentations at the event, which was streamed to advertisers and featured a slew of the company’s talent including an Imagine-esque singalong, although there was little attention on layoff-hit nets such as Comedy Central.

The company touted Nickelodeon shows such as Are You Afraid of the Dark?, which is coming back for a second season, Tyler Perry’s Young Dylan, The Crystal Maze and Danger Force, while also highlighted upcoming titles such as SpongeBob SquarePants spin-off Kamp Koral, Baby Shark’s Big Show, a Star Trek animated series, Imagine Kids + Family drama The Astronauts and the return of Rugrats.

On the BET side, President Scott Mills thanked the likes of Tyler Perry, Lena Waithe and Jesse Collins, who produce shows such as Bruh, Ruthless, Twenties, Boomerang and American Soul. “There’s just no company that is as committed to the African American community as BET,” he said.

Waithe added that she loved the network. “I’ve always loved BET and not just because I’m a black person but because they’ve been down with black people for the last 40 years and me for the last year.”

Other than the appearance of The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah (Kid Of The Year), there was little presence of Comedy Central, which has been gutted by recent layoffs including the departure of Head of Comedy Central Content & Creative Enterprises Sarah Babineau. Similarly, other than the presence of a few of the network’s stars, such as Snooki and Heidi & Spencer, there was little mention of MTV, while the Paramount Network was limited to video shorts from Coyote star Michael Chiklis and Yellowstone’s Kevin Costner looking ahead to “brighter days”.

The theme of the digital event was ‘Simply Stronger’ with the likes of Colbert, in animated form, talking to Paw Patrol’s Chase, Tony Romo and Jim Nantz talking to Corden (who was not interested in Romo’s ‘Conference Calleoke format), JoJo Siwa talking to Young Sheldon’s Iain Armitage, LL Cool J (Lip Sync Battle) and Chris O’Donnell speaking to Keegan-Michael Key and ad sales boss being ‘interviewed’ by 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker

There was also a somewhat cheesy rendition of The Turtles’ Happy Together featuring the likes of Younger’s Hilary Duff, Bob Saget, Norman Lear, Rita Morena, Diddy and Tiffany Haddish.

Towards the end of the 30-minute presentation, Colbert, Noah and Corden got into your more typical upfronts fare, gently mocking their own networks.

“If you’ll just sit through a three-hour time-share presentation, you’ll get to pick up your free theme park tickets,” joked The Late Show host Colbert, who also highlighted the leadership of Bob Bakish and George Cheeks. “By the way, if your Cheeks seem Bakish, see a physician immediately, that’s one of the symptoms.”

He added, “I’ve learned a lot about Viacom today. There’s one network called CMT and one called CMT Music. So Country Music Television Music, if you’d like to advertise there, just cough up some money, cash money.”

Noah joked that he was quarantining inside Comedy Central’s offices. “I’ll be honest, sharing a bathroom with the Crank Yankers is not as much fun as I’d thought. Between all of these brands, capabilities, and cast array of talent, we are in a place to best serve our partners. With [them] we are simply stronger, not to be confused with the Trump Administration’s motto: simple.”

The Late Late Show host James Corden closed out the show. “Tomorrow, we’re going to do this all again, looking at some of the programming coming to CBS. I, for one, am very excited, let’s be honest, it’s been months since any of us have had plans two days in a row,” he joked. “As we sit here, miles apart from each other having singular experiences all over America, there is one thing that brings us together every time, that little box that sits in the corner of the living room. That and the fact that we’ve all gained about 15 pounds. That TV is the thing that give us the collective experience we have been so sorely missing.”

Original source: Deadline.

From Variety:

ViacomCBS Faces Tricky Path to Super Bowl

In the early moments of the annual game to lure advertisers to the Super Bowl, ViacomCBS is first and long.

Signing 60 to 70 automakers, snack manufacturers and tech marketers to sponsor the biggest TV event of the year is never an easy task. But doing so will be tougher for the newly-merged media conglomerate, owing to a coronavirus pandemic that has thrown the sports business into disarray and forced advertisers to tighten their purse strings. ViacomCBS, which has the rights to broadcast the extravaganza in 2021, will have to reassure would-be Big Game sponsors about the NFL’s ability to mount a new season even as it tries to get the best prices possible.

“We are not going to be silly about it,” says Jo Ann Ross, president and chief U.S. advertising revenue officer of ViacomCBS, in an interview. She says the company recognizes that clients will want contingency plans in case the Super Bowl or the NFL season is delayed or moved. But, she adds, if live sports return, “there is going to be a demand whether there are people in the stands or not” and advertisers “are going to want to talk to their customers with a really strong voice.” The National Football League has signaled it intends to mount a full season, despite the pandemic.

Already, the company faces some early hesitancy. Anheuser-Busch InBev, which has taken a prominent position in the Super Bowl for decades, is unable to say at present whether it intends to take part in 2021, according to a spokesperson, who cited “a fluid environment.” The brewer has a deal in place through 2022 that makes its Bud Light the NFL’s official beer sponsor. And PepsiCo, which regularly advertises its flagship beverages and Frito-Lay snacks during the Super Bowl while sponsoring the game’s halftime show, was unable to respond to a query asking about its involvement with the event next year.

Anheuser spent approximately $41 million in Fox’s broadcast of Super Bowl LIV in February, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending – the most of any advertiser in the game. PepsiCo spent an estimated $31 million. Super Bowl LV is slated to take place Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

ViacomCBS has been counting on the game to help prove the viability of its recent merger to any number of parties. Investors have put the company’s stock, which has tumbled since its late-2019 launch, under scrutiny. And the NFL, which has been gearing up to renegotiate its rights deals with Walt Disney, ViacomCBS, Fox and NBCUniversal in coming months, will no doubt take ViacomCBS’ Super Bowl performance into consideration as part of that process.

The company has already made outreach to a number of advertisers, with letters sent to sponsors of the last game, and is holding early conversations about the event – the normal course of action for this time of year, according to people familiar with the process. ViacomCBS is touting the involvement of a wider range of TV networks in football this year, including Nickelodeon, which will produce a broadcast of an extra Wild Card game aimed at kids. The company expects to use its broader portfolio of networks to generate content related to the gridiron classic “the week of and the hours before Super Bowl LV,” says Ross. Even ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish is deeply involved in the company’s Super Bowl efforts. He is overseeing a large group of around 80 executives dedicated to organizing the company’s work around Super Bowl LIV.

With a broadcast of the game comes a massive swell of cash. Fox Corp.’s recent broadcast of Super Bowl LIV “generated around $600 million of gross revenue across the company” in the first quarter of 2020, according to Lachan Murdoch, CEO of the company, in remarks recently delivered to investors. Kantar recently estimated that advertising in Super Bowl LIV totaled $435 million – a new record for the event.

Talks with ViacomCBS have so far been casual, says one buying executive, and the company has yet to articulate the price range it might seek for Super Bowl inventory. Fox pressed for between $5 million and $5.6 million for a 30-second ad in the most recent game, and this buyer says cost-conscious advertisers are likely to balk at the prospect of paying an increase. The company believes the value of the game will become more obvious as time passes – particularly if the pandemic subsides and advertisers feel the need to send messages of thanks or tribute, or even launch a new product or service.

Familiar faces are making outreach to Madison Avenue. John Bogusz, CBS’s executive vice president of sports sales and Anthony Taranto, who heads up sales of NFL games, have worked their way through many Super Bowl processes. They have teamed up with Sean McManus and Dave Berson, the chairman and president, respectively, of CBS Sports, who can tell buyers and clients what to expect in terms of logistics and game play.

Selling the Super Bowl has become an arduous process – even without a pandemic. If Fox did get clients to pay $5.6 million for an ad in February’s game, it would represent a massive hike of 107% over the $2.7 million Kantar estimates it cost to run a 30-second ad in 2008’s broadcast. A Super Bowl ad campaign has other costs involved as well, including special effects, talent contacts and rights to use pop music; social- and digital-media campaigns; public-relations blitzes; and marketing efforts at supermarkets, convenience stories and other retail outlets. In recent years, the three networks that rotate Super Bowl telecasts – NBC, CBS and Fox – have gone down to the wire to sell out commercial inventory.

The NFL in the last year has moved to give advertisers a reason to rush the game anew. The league and Fox cut one commercial break from each quarter this year, leaving the Super Bowl with fewer of the game’s most desirable perches – first and last spots in a commercial break. That spurred a quicker pace of sales, and Fox sold out its broadcast in November of 2019 – the first time in five years a network has managed to sell all its Super Bowl ads early. The 2021 game will have a similar structure, according to the buyer and other people familiar with the situation.

ViacomCBS takes on the tougher sales assignment for a game that was originally supposed to air somewhere else. NBC was next in the rotation to air the game, but last year agreed to swap with CBS so both networks could better align a Super Bowl broadcast with other events. NBCUniversal had hoped to pair a 2022 Super Bowl with its broadcast that year of the Winter Olympics, while CBS wanted to tie the 2021 Super Bowl to its broadcast that year of the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball championship.

“We are moving forward, and we hope that it all works out,” says Ross. “This is a different kind of atmosphere.”

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From Variety:

ViacomCBS Leaders Talk M&A, ‘Green Shoots’ in Ad Sales and Streaming at Annual Meeting

ViacomCBS president and CEO Bob Bakish told investors on Monday that the company feels no urgency to pursue any major acquisitions at present.

During ViacomCBS’ 40-minute annual meeting of shareholders, Bakish also said the TV giant is starting to see “green shoots” in the scatter advertising marketplace. And he talked up the growth in usage of the newly combined Viacom and CBS Corp. streaming platforms and promised that a major overhaul of the CBS All Access subscription platform is coming to incorporate more ViacomCBS brands.

On the subject of M&A, Bakish was clear. “There are no must-have assets out there for us in the landscape,” Bakish said, promising to be both “highly disciplined and highly opportunistic” in evaluating options that might arise.

“You should not expect us to do material deals in the current environment,” he said.

Shari Redstone, non-executive chairman of ViacomCBS, vociferously reiterated her support for Bakish and the management team that has been solidified in the five months since the merger closed in early December. ViacomCBS shares had already been battered in 2018 and 2019 by corporate turmoil, and then the COVID-19 shock sent the price plummeting further.


“We totally believe the stock is dramatically undervalued,” Redstone said during the Q&A session of the meeting, which was held remotely via webcast given the coronavirus lockdown. “The market is looking for us to prove that we can execute on our strategy. I’m confident we will do so more quickly than anyone expects.”

ViacomCBS shares were up 7% in early trading Monday to around $18.50 amid a broader rally for major U.S. indices. Shares are down 64% for the year to date. ViacomCBS is not alone in seeing double-digit declines. But the lack of shareholder bellyaching about the stock price during the Q&A portion of the meeting underscores Redstone’s firm control of nearly 80% of the voting rights in ViacomCBS.

Bakish and Redstone reiterated the company’s focus on studios, networks and streaming as outlined last week on the quarterly earnings call. He cited the “milestone growth” in recent weeks for Pluto TV, the ad-supported streaming platform, and CBS All Access.

“Our growing scale, audience reach and earnings power will become even more evident as the market rebounds,” Bakish said. Pluto TV is serving as a “massive free front door” to help funnel paying customers to the subscription CBS All Access and Showtime streaming platforms.

Advertising sales were hammered during the first quarter period by the sudden coronavirus lockdown. National broadcast has held up the best, followed by cable and digital. The weakest numbers are found at the local level among ViacomCBS’ 28 O&O stations, Bakish said.

Bakish said ViacomCBS’ sales corps is seeing improvement in scatter ad sales activity compared to April. “We’re seeing some green shoots in advertising but we continue to need to manage through it,” he said.

Bakish repeatedly emphasized that the combination of Viacom and CBS Corp. is helping the company compete with its larger rivals as it has more to offer key constituencies such as ad buyers and MVPDs.

“One of our largest clients recently came to market with Q2 scatter dollars. We know we got the largest share,” Bakish said.

Among other highlights from the meeting:

** ViacomCBS’ annual content spending bill of $13 billion “puts us in a very small club,” Bakish said. The company is in the process of scrutinizing that content tab and looking to “fund that investment growth by shifting dollars from lower-growth sectors,” he said.

** The addition of 120 film titles from the Paramount Pictures library to the CBS All Access offering has already yielded “significant increases in engagement” among All Access subscribers. A user-interface overhaul is coming to CBS All Access this summer, followed later by a “transformative rebrand and relaunch” of the pay service, Bakish said.

** Bakish talked up ViacomCBS’ long-term relationship with the NFL in response to a question about whether the price tag for a new NFL rights deal may spiral beyond the realm of profitability for the company. The CEO pointed to a recent pact with the NFL that gives CBS an extra wildcard playoff game to carry on broadcast TV and CBS All Access in the coming NFL season, as well as the agreement to produce a special broadcast of the game aimed for kids that will air on Nickelodeon. “That’s an example of the kind of things we can do to create incremental value for the NFL,” he said.

** Redstone made a brief mention of the company starting to “contemplate return to work scenarios” for employees but did not elaborate, nor were there questions from shareholders about a timetable.

** Redstone opened the meeting with a tribute to longtime Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy, who died May 12 of a heart attack at age 71. “She led with strength, kindness and humor and will be missed by all who knew her,” Redstone said.

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From The Hollywood Reporter:

ViacomCBS Chair Shari Redstone Touts "Significant" Growth Opportunities, Stock Upside

CEO Bob Bakish during the virtual annual shareholder meeting said the recombined firm has "undeniable momentum in streaming" and mentioned "green shoots" in advertising amid the pandemic.
ViacomCBS is moving quickly to reap the benefits of the recombined company and its "significant" upside opportunity, non-executive chair Shari Redstone said during the firm's virtual annual shareholder meeting Monday, which was webcast.

"These are extraordinary times," she said about the novel coronavirus pandemic, before emphasizing her "passion for our incredible company." Touting its "unmatched content assets," she said: "Together, CBS, Paramount and our portfolio of brands … are a global multiplatform content powerhouse."

Redstone also highlighted the company's audience share in the U.S. and argued that "our content has never been in greater demand among audiences around the world.” She vowed the firm was focused on realizing the "power of the combination."

Management is "transforming our business" for the future and has "moved quickly" over the first five months since the merger that has created a team with "one vision, one strategy, one culture and one set of values" to develop "decade-defining content" and long-term shareholder value, among other things, she said.

While "the media landscape is changing rapidly … we embrace" the change and opportunity that provides, Redstone added. "The board and I strongly believe in what the company can achieve," she concluded, highlighting "significant growth opportunities we are moving quickly to capture."

In the first annual meeting since the December recombination of Viacom and CBS into the new ViacomCBS, controlled by the Redstone family, Bakish then took over for a video conference overview and said the firm was positioned to be a leader and touted early moves in the right direction, while also again arguing the stock was "significantly undervalued." For example, he said that "our momentum in streaming is undeniable." He later in the meeting argued that the market would ultimately recognize the company's value, with Redstone concluding: "We totally believe that the stock is dramatically undervalued." She said the differentiated strategy of the firm means the market is waiting for proof it can make good on its promises.

Asked about her long-term vision for ViacomCBS, Redstone said on a combined basis the firm has "unrivaled ability" to create value and upside.

Asked about how the combined company thinks about M&A, Redstone said, "our primary focus is on executing our strategy." Added Bakish: "We are fundamentally focused on executing the transformation." That said, he said this team would look for opportunities like the recent deal for a 49 percent stake in Miramax. "There are no must-have assets" for the firm, and investors should not expect any "material" deals in the current environment, emphasizing several times that any M&A would be done in a disciplined way.

Asked during the Q&A session about second-quarter advertising trends, Bakish said May and June scatter ad demand trends are showing improvement over April, providing some "green shoots," but the firm previously said the quarter would be harder-hit than the first. Bakish said the company's broadcast unit was strongest in ad trends, followed by cable networks and digital. He mentioned at auto, restaurants, travel and movies/entertainment as key hard-hit areas.

ViacomCBS on May 5 unveiled plans for a virtual upfront, becoming the first media conglomerate to go ahead with something resembling a full-fledged presentation to advertisers.

Bakish on Monday mentioned that ViacomCBS' most recent earnings update was a sign of the early momentum and benefits of the merger. In its recent second financial report since the recombination of Viacom and CBS Corp. in December and its first for a full quarter of the merged firm, ViacomCBS posted lower first-quarter earnings and revenue, including advertising revenue, as the novel coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of March Madness and the delay of a key film release. But its stock jumped as results exceeded Wall Street expectations and the company touted growth in streaming and an expanded carriage deal with YouTube TV.

Bakish recently said ViacomCBS would be in good shape for the fall TV season if productions can restart by the summer after the novel coronavirus pandemic, saying: "We are optimistic that our fall schedule won’t be materially disrupted … assuming we can get back to production sometime this summer."

He also recently outlined planned summer changes to the CBS All Access streaming service, saying it would be beefed up with a broad array of Viacom programming and a "critical" mass of sports content. On Monday, Bakish reiterated the plans for this and the firm's hope to launch an international streaming service, sharing during the shareholder meeting that this would happen over the next year.

ViacomCBS shares were up more than 6 percent as of 10:10 a.m. ET.

###

From AdWeek:

ViacomCBS Prepares ‘Efficient and Entertaining’ 2-Day Upfront Stand-In

'We are much better as a combined company,' says Jo Ann Ross

Key insights:

- The ViacomCBS ad sales team will conduct deeper dives individually with clients.
- CEO Bob Bakish said the ad sales picture is "not pretty," but scatter is starting to pick up and there's optimism about live sports.

Jo Ann Ross had been looking forward to making a splash at the first upfront for the combined ViacomCBS—but thanks to Covid-19, the ad sales chief will be doing that in a much different way than she had planned.

Jo Ann Ross had been looking forward to making a splash at the first upfront for the combined ViacomCBS—but thanks to Covid-19, the ad sales chief will be doing that in a much different way than she had planned.

Beginning today, the company is kicking off a two-day virtual upfront event called ViacomCBS Upfront @Home. Today’s Viacom-centric presentation is standing in for the intimate agency dinners that had been planned in April, while Tuesday’s CBS-focused event (which will include the unveiling of CBS’ fall schedule) is substituting for the annual Carnegie Hall soiree that was supposed to be held last Wednesday during upfronts week.

These represent the first official replacement events for last week’s canceled upfronts week presentations (both NBCUniversal and Univision streamed events last week for advertisers, but stressed they were not substitutes for their official upfront presentation). Both ViacomCBS presentations will be prerecorded, and will go live on Monday and Tuesday afternoon for agencies and clients to stream at their leisure in the coming days and weeks.

After the company’s annual Carnegie Hall upfront event and April dinners were canceled in March, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish and his team worked on creating an alternative virtual presentation that not only “sticks a flag in the ground about our industry-leading capabilities and our programming,” but would also be “efficient and entertaining” for clients, said Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer for domestic ad sales.

“We have some of the best creative people in the industry working on this, so I’m very confident it will hit the mark,” said Ross of the two presentations. “You’ll see some good sizzle, some good information, and I think people will come away saying, ‘Yeah, that worked.’”

Following the Monday and Tuesday events, Ross’s ad sales team will conduct roundtables with clients and agency partners in the coming weeks, providing a deeper dive into the company’s capabilities, reach, scale and advanced advertising offering.

These presentations will be the first major opportunity for the Viacom and CBS portions of the company to come together publicly since talent and execs rang the Nasdaq opening bell the day the merger was finalized in December.

With its “simply stronger” tagline, “the feeling here is that we are much better as a combined company,” said Ross, pointing to ViacomCBS’ largest share of U.S. TV audience among all media companies and the strength of Viacom’s advanced portfolio.

The integration of the ad sales team under Ross, which began in January, “was accelerated and definitely strengthened because of the way we’re doing business over the past eight weeks,” she said.

While Ross is already in “early conversations” with some clients, she said there “won’t be a one-size-fits-all” approach to what will be a staggered upfront marketplace, with buyers entering negotiations when their clients are ready to think about their long-term spend. “Whether it’s next week, or next month, or next quarter, our team is ready to do what is right for our clients and make it simple for them.”

Even in a wildly different marketplace than anticipated, Ross is sticking to the same upfront strategy that she previewed for Adweek earlier this year: “When our clients are ready” to go to market, said Ross, her team will “make it simple and make it stronger. It’s going to be solutions oriented and a single point of entry.”

ViacomCBS is looking to woo advertisers on the heels of its bleak quarterly earnings earlier this month: Advertising revenue in its television entertainment segment decreased 30% year over year—a loss of $586 million (a combination of CBS not airing the Super Bowl this year and the coronavirus-related cancellation of March Madness)—as live sports dried up and advertisers pressed pause on some investments. The ad sales picture is “not pretty,” Bakish told investors.

But Ross is optimistic about the company’s upfront prospects. The scatter market is starting to pick up in May after a tough March and April, as “more than a handful” of clients that initially exited the marketplace or postponed their spends in March are returning to TV again.

“We’ve been able to get our fair share, if not more so” in scatter, said Ross, with content like the classic Paramount films airing Sunday nights on CBS, including Titanic and Forrest Gump, and a coronavirus-themed episode of CBS’ All Rise that was shot entirely remotely.

And the return of live sports is getting closer to reality, with the recent release of the new NFL season schedule and PGA Tour events resuming beginning June 11 on CBS.

The company is already in “active” conversations about the NFL season and next February’s Super Bowl, but is working contingency plans into those conversations in the event that the schedule is disrupted by Covid-19.

“There’s going to have to be an asterisk, [but] hopefully they’re able to get the schedule up and running,” Ross said. “And hopefully we’ll see some of our top tier categories come back, like cars, movie studios, QSRs. When they do come back as the country reopens, those marketers are going to be able to have a very, very strong voice, whether it’s in live sports, or in new programming, or in the Super Bowl, which is the biggest event of the year.”

With Hollywood productions still sidelined by Covid-19, contingency plans will be baked into entertainment-based upfront talks as well. “We are all looking forward in this pandemic, but we’re very nimble, and we’ve learned that there have to be contingencies for everything, including for our entertainment programming,” Ross said.

In this upfront, ViacomCBS will also be pushing its growing streaming offerings, including the revamped and expanded CBS All Access, which Bakish said on the earnings call will debut this summer. “With consumption being up, we have tons of momentum in our streaming content, and we are continuing to grow those properties,” Ross said.

ViacomCBS’ upfront website will include much more detail about the company’s upfront capabilities, but Ross said she hopes clients will wait until their one-on-ones with the sales team members, who will offer a “guided tour” of the offerings. “But if a client can’t sleep one night and wants to take a look at what we’re doing with Vantage, shopper, experiential or Awesomeness, they can log on and take a deeper dive,” she said.

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From Variety:

ViacomCBS Aims to Hook Hesitant Advertisers on Wider Media Array

ViacomCBS, on the hunt for advertising dollars in a difficult economic moment, plans to take two shots at its target.

The recently-merged company later today will offer a look at its various cable properties to media buyers and advertisers, and on Tuesday will debut the fall schedule for its CBS broadcast network. The two video presentations will be sent via email to clients and are designed to whet appetites on Madison Avenue, says Jo Ann Ross, the company’s president and chief U.S. advertising revenue officer, in an interview. The pitch holds that with the company’s reach, which extends from Trevor Noah to “NCIS,” ViacomCBS offerings can’t be ignored.

The media conglomerate, which owns CBS, Showtime and Nickelodeon, among other media outlets, is testing a different tactic than others approaching advertisers during a fraught season for the industry’s annual “upfront” market. NBCUniversal and Univision asked clients last week to gather at a particular time to watch a streamed presentation. ViacomCBS is making its information available on demand.

“We will have different portals available, so you can go whenever – look at research, programming – at your leisure and as you please,” says Ross, who was named to lead U.S. ad sales for the combined company in the fall of last year. “We want it to be snackable, so you can say, ‘I have 20 to 25 minutes, let me check it out.’ We will have deeper dives available that go into our innovations and capabilities and advanced advertising options.”

Like its rivals, ViacomCBS faces an uncertain advertising market, with several major classes of sponsors pulling back commercial spend due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ross says she is seeing signs that buying activity is starting to improve. “Clients who may have had supply-chain issues, or distribution issues – more than a handful of those clients are reactivating, so to speak – if they took money back, they are coming back into the marketplace,” she says. “As the country reopens, I am optimistic looking forward we will be seeing some of the first stirrings from some of those major categories that were being more cautious.”

ViacomCBS’ backers have long hoped the combination of the two predecessor companies’ properties would lure new ad deals and spending, and Ross says the two presentations this week will aim to show advertisers what is available to them. “We have something in every content category, whether it is news, or sports or general entertainment,” she says. And based on individual client’s interest or marketing goals, she says ViacomCBS will work on “threading the needle,” or helping advertisers find their most likely customers across the company.

To further emphasize the broader company, the videos shown on both days will rely on talent from across the portfolio. “You will see talent from CBS partnered with talent from our cable channels in fun ways,” says Ross. “It’s going to be different.”

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From Deadline:

ViacomCBS Ad Chief Jo Ann Ross On Company’s “Consumable” Upfront Approach, Outlook For 2020 Spending, Super Bowl LV

The 2020 TV upfront season was already going to be a different one for ViacomCBS given the company has recently merged. Then came COVID-19.

“The one and only time we were together was last December when we rang the bell” at the stock exchange, ad sales chief Jo Ann Ross tells Deadline. As soon as the pandemic started forcing the cancellation of events in March and April, Ross said, “We quickly got the troops together and said, ‘OK, we still need to stick a flag in the ground.'”

The result is a two-day set of online presentations, which will be made available on demand on Monday and Tuesday. The digital offerings are a “consumable,” “snackable” version of the Viacom client dinners hosted by CEO Bob Bakish and the long-established CBS extravaganza at Carnegie Hall, Ross said. While some media rivals have ditched the upfront ritual altogether, that option was never seriously considered. “We wanted to put together a virtual presentation that would be fun and would have content, that would entertain,” Ross said. Media buyers “are going to lean in and laugh. They’re going to know it’s tongue-in-cheek, that it’s fun. And we’re going to get them in and out” instead of requiring hours of time criss-crossing Manhattan.

About 80% of the CBS broadcast schedule has remained intact despite the production shutdown. Sports has been a looming concern, with the NFL maintaining it plans to start its fall season on September 10 as planned. CBS is not only a regular-season broadcaster but in February 2021 it has Super Bowl LV, the first of two NFL title games in three years as a result of an Olympics-related swap with NBC. Stakes are high for the game, with Fox reporting $600 million in ad revenue on the day it aired Super Bowl LIV last February. While some sectors of the economy and the marketing world remain intact — insurance, pharmaceuticals and consumer technology — many other categories have been brought low by the crisis. With unemployment at Great Depression levels and daily business in a deep state of uncertainty, it’s hard to know if the ad-palooza of Super Bowl Sunday will return in 2021.

While there are many “what-if scenarios” being discussed daily as far as sports, Ross said, “we are planning to go forward with the Super Bowl as planned,” and the NFL and related on-air talent will be a key element in the online upfront. If the season is delayed or even canceled by COVID-19, “there are contingencies in place,” she added, declining to offer details. In March, CBS and WarnerMedia endured the cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, offering ad buyers a mix of rebates, make-goods and “re-expressions.” Two small consolations in the case of March Madness are the fact rights are split between two companies as well as the long-term sponsorship deals that certain brands sign with the NCAA, which offer networks a degree of protection.


The loss of live sports is one reason why Wall Street analysts and ad-industry observers expect a significant downturn in advertising revenue through at least the end of 2020. “This year’s upfront market is thoroughly disrupted,” wrote Macquarie’s Tim Nollen in a recent report. “Rather than an upfront week of presentations followed by negotiations to pre-sell up to 80% of the TV year starting in September, this year’s TV ad market will rather be a series of deals progressing over several months, and probably not coming close to the usual volumes.”

Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson told clients on a recent conference call he has long expected the next recession to “level-set TV spending.” In particular for cable networks, he said, “What I worry about going forward is, if you’re not an essential content vertical … the pricing stick you’ve used to keep this business in check will weaken. … Ultimately, cable networks that don’t have endemic ad support and are not live are at major risk of seeing declines. That will be true too in broadcast, in certain broadcast dayparts where there isn’t enough reach to justify a premium.”

Based on data from Nielsen and various media and digital companies, MoffettNathanson estimates that TV this year will slip below 30% of all U.S. advertising dollars spent for the first time since the medium was born. Digital spending, which first eclipsed TV in 2016, is likely to top 60% of the total.

Ross said flexibility has been the key. Many stakeholders in the nearly $70 billion TV ad business expect it to move to a calendar-year structure, given the evolution of the auto industry (traditionally the driver of the upfront) as well as the anachronistic notion of new programming only existing from September to May. Ross said networks have always tried to accommodate buyers, including offering them calendar-year upfront deals.

“We will work with our clients the way that they need us to work with them,” she said. That concept will be especially true in 2020, a year of dramatic upheaval to supply chains and business practices in nearly every sector. “It’s hard to make a prediction when you don’t have any product on the shelf, or when you have product but you can’t get it to the shelf” she added. “It’s going to be a different pacing, a different cadence for the short term, and maybe it will change for the long term. … I don’t think there’s one simple answer.”

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From AdWeek:

ViacomCBS Stresses Power of Combined Portfolio in Day 1 of Virtual Upfront

Talent echoes 'simply stronger together' mantra in business-as-usual presentation

Key insight:

The briskly-paced event featured plenty of celebs as ViacomCBS is saving the hard upfront sell for smaller meetings after the event.

ViacomCBS’s annual upfront pitch to marketers this year, like most events held in the last two months, is a virtual one, a side effect of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that has shut down television production, halted live sports and thrown the advertising industry into disarray.

But in its presentation to marketers today—a second event will be posted tomorrow—the message was clear: even as the world is far from normal, ViacomCBS wants it to be business as usual at the company. It was also a message of unity, with talent from both sides of the company that merged last December emphasizing that the company was “simply stronger together” when working with advertisers.

The presentation was the first of two that ViacomCBS has planned for the week, both of which are designed to replace the company’s April agency dinners and annual glitzy presentation at Carnegie Hall. Today’s, which centered on the Viacom side of the company, delivered the sort of well-prepared, celebrity-studded onstage presentations that the upfronts have long been known, but was considerably shorter than in-person events that can run past the two-hour mark.

The presentation Monday clocked in at just over 33 minutes with a pitch that was designed to be “efficient and entertaining” for clients, ViacomCBS ad sales chief Jo Ann Ross told Adweek. Tomorrow’s event will focus on the CBS brands.

The pitch was jam-packed with dozens of remote appearances from Viacom brands like BET, Comedy Central and MTV, though several CBS stars popped up as well. Instead of onstage presentations from television talent, they called in via Zoom video conferences. Instead of sitting in a live audience, marketers—dubbed “adstronauts” in an opening animated segment—watched from home offices and living rooms after receiving emailed video links.

ViacomCBS primarily emphasized the audiences that its properties draw and the reach the brands have with kids and young adults, but the presentation was less of a hard numbers sell and more a highlight reel of the talent, brands and audience that the television network has in its portfolio. A Hard Sell segment, presented with a Star Wars-type opening crawl and packed with numbers about ViacomCBS’ reach, clocked in at less than one minute at about one-third of the way through Monday’s presentation.

The presentation was also light on executive appearances. Ross and BET Networks president Scott Mills were the only execs who appeared in the Monday presentation, with Ross appearing near the end of the event in a faux-60 Minutes interview with correspondent Bill Whitaker to talk briefly about the company’s advanced television capabilities.

“For some time now, 60 Minutes has been looking into advanced advertising,” said Whitaker, introduced the segment as if it were a typical 60 Minutes report. “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 targeted, optimize and powerful.”

Ross’ ad sales team is conducting roundtables with clients and agency partners in the coming weeks to offer a deeper dive into the company’s capabilities, reach, scale and advanced advertising offerings.

Talent filled in most of the airtime, which marketers will be able to watch on-demand through the week as their schedules allow. Young Sheldon’s Iain Armitage and Nickelodeon’s JoJo Siwa appeared via video call to pitch Viacom’s connected TV bonafide and appeal among young viewers. Stephen Colbert, host of CBS’ The Late Show, made two appearances in the presentation, appearing in animated form at the beginning to interview Chase from Nickelodeon’s Paw Patrol and in-person near the end to emphasize ViacomCBS’ “simply stronger together” messaging while cracking jokes.

There were other appearances from NCIS, with Los Angeles’ LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell, MTV reality stars Brody Jenner and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key, who is hosting the upcoming CBS game show Game On!

Some of the pitches from Viacom’s talent underscored the uncertainty about when life might return to normal, even if it wasn’t mentioned onscreen. A brief pitch from MTV’s Nick Cannon and Justina Valentine about Viacom’s offerings of live events like Nick’s Kids Choice Awards and in-person experiences landed as most events are up in the air as stay at home orders and local decrees prevent those kinds of events from happening.

CBS Sports sportscaster Jim Nantz and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo touted the upcoming NFL season and Super Bowl LV, which is scheduled to air next February on CBS, even as the return of live sports has more questions than answers due to the pandemic.

But television can also be a great unifier in times of trouble, so long as the show is able to go on, which Late Late Show host James Corden said in a closing appeal to marketers.

“There is one thing that brings us together every time: that little box in the corner of your living room,” Corden said. “That box, that television, is the thing that can give us the collective experience we have so sorely been missing.”

The upfronts season overall has been thrown for a loop due to the pandemic’s myriad effects, but ViacomCBS’ approach highlights an eagerness to replicate in-person upfronts experience as much as possible in a virtual setting. Still, the pitch to advertisers comes in a difficult market. Advertisers plan to spend about one-third less during this year’s upfront, according to a recent survey, making the pitch crucial to capture ad budgets that have disappeared or are on pause.

At ViacomCBS, first-quarter ad revenue in its television entertainment segment decreased 30% year over year—a loss of $586 million (a combination of CBS not airing the Super Bowl this year and the Covid-19-related cancellation of March Madness)—as live sports dried up and advertisers pressed pause on some investments. The ad sales picture is “not pretty,” ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish told investors.

Ross, though, has expressed optimism that the scatter market will pick up speed later in the year as marketers chart their paths forward.

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From Cynopsis Media:

ViacomCBS’s two-day virtual upfront started Monday with the message, “Simply stronger.” An animated Stephen Colbert kicked off the lively, space-themed, star-studded (from home) event covering innovation (integrations, first to market products), and its cable brands. Talent popped up to talk about everything from activations and experiences to the 2020 election and sports (James Corden jumped into a chat about an NFL game airing on both CBS and Nickelodeon: “How is this going to work, exactly? Is Sponge Bob going to be announcing?”). For ad execs at home with children, kid stars had the task of explaining stats on audience reach and scale, while LL Cool J explained his mission: “We’ve got to tell a group of ad executives about the combined creative capabilities of ViacomCBS before any of them get bored.” Corden wrapped things up with the message that TV “is the thing that can give us the collective experience that we have all been so sorely missing.”

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From The New York Times:

CBS Courts Advertisers Virtually, With a Zinger From Stephen Colbert

Instead of celebrities and sizzle reels at Carnegie Hall, the network presents its wares in videos sent to ad buyers.

Every spring CBS parades its stars and executives across the Carnegie Hall stage to try to persuade advertisers to buy commercial time during an event filled with scripted banter and sizzle reels. This year, ad buyers working from home clicked on a link that led them to a cartoon of Stephen Colbert interviewing a dog.

The cameo appearances by a character from Nickelodeon’s “Paw Patrol” and an animated version of the star of “The Late Show” kicked off a toned-down presentation from ViacomCBS that took the place of the usual showcase.

In a series of videos delivered to an audience stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, actors like Thomas Middleditch and Tom Selleck helped CBS introduce its 2020-21 fall lineup. The slate includes 23 returning series, as well as a new sitcom called “B Positive” from Chuck Lorre, the co-creator of the CBS stalwart “The Big Bang Theory,” and a reboot of the 1980s vigilante show “The Equalizer,” starring Queen Latifah. “Clarice,” a TV sequel to the 1991 blockbuster “The Silence of the Lambs,” will arrive late in the season. The network will also broadcast the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.

In taped videos, Mr. Colbert joined Tony Romo, LL Cool J and others to talk up the media giant’s ad-targeting technology and its access to young viewers. James Corden, the host of “The Late Late Show,” reminisced about taking selfies and eating frozen yogurt during the parties at the Plaza that take place after the annual Carnegie Hall event.

“I so wish we were all together right now in New York City,” he moaned.

The pandemic has laid waste to the elaborate springtime ritual known as the upfronts, where media companies hype their fall wares in an effort to secure their slice of more than $9 billion in ad money. This year, boozy dinners and power breakfasts have given way to virtual presentations.

With television production shut down indefinitely, the companies that buy commercial time are expected to spend 33 percent less than they did last year during the current upfront season, according to a recent survey from the advertising data company Advertiser Perceptions.

“The reality is, we’re trying to figure out what’s happening,” said Gibbs Haljun, who handles investments at the media agency Mindshare. “Nobody is pushing to have upfront conversations today — there are too many variables we don’t know.”

In its most recent quarter, ViacomCBS suffered a 19 percent slump in advertising revenue. During a virtual meeting of shareholders on Monday, the chief executive Robert M. Bakish said the company was seeing “green shoots” in the so-called scatter market, where ads are sold closer to airtime, rather than months in advance.

Neither he nor George Cheeks, the head of CBS, appeared in the videos sent to ad buyers, but Mr. Colbert managed to squeeze in some industry humor at their expense.

“If your cheeks seem bakish, see a physician immediately,” he said to his remote audience. “That’s one of the symptoms.”

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More Nick: Nickelodeon Upfront 2020 Roundup!

Originally published: Monday, May 18, 2020.

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