From advert hundreds to upfronts, the TV business is gearing up for one more wild experience in 2021


In early 2020, the television industry focused on introducing new streaming services to keep up with Netflix while preventing audiences from giving up linear television. A year later, Covid-19 changed everything. At the same time, nothing has really changed.

Yes, the pandemic accelerated and compressed the development of the industry from several years to a few months. However, the year 2021 begins in a similar way to 2020: the same companies are prioritizing their streaming services in part to reach the audience that fled linear television during the pandemic.

Originally, the quarantined consumers watched more television for several days, but these new patterns changed when Covid-19 stopped live sports and stopped television production. That throttled the linear TV content pipeline and got audiences streaming – and many never looked back. Companies like NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS lost more than a quarter of their advertising revenue in the second quarter due to the effects of Covid-19.

Where we are now

Something amazing happened by the summer: the biggest media companies hit by their heavy advertising revenue losses joined the streaming onslaught. NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia, and Disney have radically reconfigured their organizations to put their streaming platforms first without questioning their priorities for the future.

“Consumer behavior has changed all the time,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairwoman of NBCUniversal, Global Advertising and Partnerships. As a result of their company's overhaul, with executives now overseeing content for multiple platforms, "it's perfectly organized to develop and distribute relevant content to them regardless of the screen." Finally, Yaccarino says: "We cannot change the industry without changing ourselves and our organization."

And the transformation has only just begun. The changes in the television landscape this year may not be as seismic as 2020, but it will still be a wild ride.

Where do we go

Most insiders tacitly expect fall 2021 as the time when the industry will emerge stronger from the pandemic, assuming most people can get vaccinated by summer.

"By the third quarter, we anticipate the vaccine will be sufficiently widespread and something that is normal will return," said Brian Wieser, global president, business intelligence, GroupM. In GroupM's global year-end forecast, the company expects that the ailing categories of travel and theater advertising will finally be back in full swing by then and benefit from the pent-up demand.

While GroupM predicts that total US television advertising will decline 15.1% (excluding political advertising) in 2020 and increase 7.8% this year, when normality returns, national television will be "lukewarm to negative" Wieser says with a growing share of spending on streaming platforms like Roku and ad-supported streamers like Hulu and Pluto TV, which "contribute to the erosion of traditional ad-supported television." Digital expansions and related media, including advertising related to the streaming activities of traditional media companies, will grow 23.2% this year (up from a 7.8% increase in 2020), further explaining the shift to streaming.

Streaming is transforming linear television from content to loading advertisements

The impact of last year's restructuring of streaming-centric media companies will be more noticeable in 2021, as the top-notch scripting programs that were once intended for each company's cable networks are now almost entirely on their respective streaming platforms like NBCUniversal's Peacock , WarnerMedia, will broadcast HBO Max and ViacomCBS & # 39; Paramount + (the upcoming rebranding of CBS All Access that will now be the focus of its scripting efforts).

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Jeffrey Rabinowitz