Every now and again, you hear news about TV networks and their shows and how the news came from what’s referred to as the upfronts. Upfronts is a weird word, but once you see what it means, it will make a tiny bit more sense!
A few times a year, you might hear how a television network announces their slate of renewed, new and upcoming TV programming plans for the upcoming season from what the media outlets refer to as upfronts.
The industry knows these events as the upfronts for ad buyers. But lately, they’re also becoming the venue to announce the latest news to the television viewing public.
So what are upfronts?
This is when advertisers have a chance to buy ad time on the network up front or before a season begins. It’s this time frame that the TV ad time is sold at a discounted rate.
It used to be an annual event, but it also used to just be an event for the few major networks. But as cable TV is becoming more of a quality content player, the upfronts have become more of a network-by-network event, with the major players making their shows sometime in May. (Traditionally speaking) Cable networks pitch their upfronts earlier, since some of their heavy hitting programs hit the airwaves in the summer while the big networks air their less successful shows. (That’s probably not the right term, but summer is traditionally, when fewer folks watch TV, so it’s a harder sell.)
Basically, at its core, an upfront is when TV networks sell ad time to their advertisers for new and returning shows. The TV execs pitch their upcoming season to the ad buyers, convincing them why they should drop the big bucks on a show or time slot.
They show preview clips or episodes and the stars also show up to help sell their work. Also, more often than not, this is also when networks let adverts know about their mid-season plans.
So yes, this is when many of those loud and pesky ads that annoy you, get their ad time on TV. And in and of itself, it’s a bit of a gala event, with the press sessions by day and the networking parties at night.
But don’t be fooled by what sounds like a fun. This is the big time media exposure, networking bit of business time.
The BIG Bucks
This is where the big bucks start to fly in to the networks for the season. This is where the monies come from to help networks finance their productions, albeit it, pay the film crews, the creative teams of writers, directors and producers, and this is where those actor salaries come from.
The upfronts can herald a hefty bill, but as TV fans have proven over the years, they support the process of ad-driven television.
If the target demographic did not end up buying the products pitched during their favorite shows, this process would not work and what TV shows you’ve become accustomed to, would fade away.
Thus, this is why advertisers, generally speaking, can drop anywhere from eight to twelve billion dollars per season.
$10 Billion Per Season
Yes, I said “billion” and “per season.”
And to think, the upfronts are when the advertisers can snag their discounted seasonal rates for various time and or day slots in any network’s TV schedule.
Once TV seasons commence, the ad prices go up as everyone gets a better feel for what a show can start to command in the TV ratings department. It’s during the season that ads are sold at a premium.
In a way, upfronts are where advertisers spend money with a calculating eye towards what will net them income. They “take a chance,” so to speak.
But then again, it’s very little risk for an advertiser to drop money on ad time for shows like American Idol, NCIS, The Following, Justified, Breaking Bad… (When it was returning), Sons of Anarchy… well, you get the idea.
In fact, I can see shows like those mentioned, become bidding wars, driving the prices up for what’s spent because advertisers like their products being shown when the most folks are tuning in.
And again, this kind of economic development is what helps support the wages and pay hikes of all involved.
And that, my dear readers, in a generic nutshell, is what an upfront is.