Television programs have gone virtual this year. Has all that changed?

Most years, TV shows are a week of big events in New York where networks showcase “reels” of their fall lineups and schmooze advertisers in hopes of selling commercials. But the pandemic intervened, leading many networks to cancel their formal presentations in 2020 and causing them to go completely virtual this year.

Are these the only changes? Initial plans have expanded over the years to include digital and targeted media. These days, there are beginnings for podcasts; updates for platforms like YouTube and Buzzfeed; and this year, the very first Black-owned multimedia upfronts.

“Market” host Kai Ryssdal asked Northwestern University communications professor Aymar Jean Christian about the progress, starting with whether they were being watered down by all the new additions.

Aymar Jean Christian: They may have been diluted, but I think it was necessary. It is impossible that in 2021, four networks can meet the demand for high-quality ad placements. And so the upfronts must have developed. I think the NewFronts, when they first started, were definitely a challenge for newbies. And now it looks like the two have been accepted as part of the same type of high-profile event, globally now probably two months old.

Kai Ryssdal: Right. NewFronts, you should probably define that term as well.

Christian: NewFronts are the digital equivalent of upfronts. They started when companies like YouTube were trying to get advertisers to spend their big bucks on online advertising, which is delivered in a very different way than traditional advertising.

Ryssdal: So let me ask you about the actual delivery of the content. Much of that now comes from the banners, doesn’t it? Netflix, Disney Plus, Paramount Plus, I mean take your pick. And I guess my question is, why do these companies have to attract advertisers?

Christian: So not all of them need to attract advertisers. Some of these companies combine subscription and advertising. Discovery Plus offers on-demand subscription programs, but you can also watch “House Hunters” live 24/7 with ad breaks through the Discovery Plus app in the digital space. And in this new world of streaming, there is an increasingly diverse range of options.

Ryssdal: I don’t know if I stay for “House Hunters” if I have to stay in the commercials. That’s all I’m saying. I’m going to watch it all at once for 22 minutes, or whatever. It’s also worth noting that we are now able – advertisers and programmers – to target very specific audiences. There was [Black-Owned Media Upfronts] this year too, right?

Christian: There was [Black-Owned Media Upfronts] with some Byron Allen companies. There is Univision for Latinx content. It’s not exactly a start, but there is also a fan-led queer. So yes, various audiences are present this year. It’s a bit new. But historically, thanks to NewFronts, you do get specific audiences, fashion audiences, feminine publications. So I think this is part of a larger diversification of the original plans that has been happening for several years now.

Ryssdal: Yes. Just to play ahead, last year the advances were canceled because of, obviously, the pandemic. This year, they were virtual. It doesn’t come cheap to bring all those TV stars and TikTok stars and the stars of what you have to Radio City to New York or wherever they decide to host them. Do you think they stay virtual and people are just trying to do the easy thing?

Christian: We will see. I think it will all depend on the advertising transport. For many decades, it was deemed necessary to bring people to New York to schmoozing, to meet the stars, in order to secure these multibillion dollar commitments. If they can get those engagements at a lower price, they certainly need that money in a very competitive media landscape right now.

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