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Carroll’s Column: The Annual Upfronts

Image Credit: Getty Images

NEW YORK — The Fall season will be here before you know it with television networks prepared to make their mark across the entertainment industry. Several networks began announcing their upcoming plans this past week and let’s just say, get ready… 

The middle of May has long been when the major television networks, and now streaming services, hold large presentations in our town called “upfronts.” Their purpose is to introduce new programming, as well as remind advertisers and the press of their current hit shows.     

With the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror, and labor peace restored in Hollywood, upfront week was the most normal it has been in five years. Even though scripted entertainment has returned, sports, which used to get short shrift at these presentations, was now in the starring role because it is one of the few things consumers want to see live. Advertisers pay a premium for that real estate.       

Image Credit: Walt Disney/Upfront Presentation from 2023

NBC had their main sports voice, Bayside High School alum Mike Tirico, promote the upcoming Summer Olympics in Paris on the majestic stage of Radio City Music Hall. Tirico bantered with hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg, “Saturday Night Live” veteran player Kenan Thompson, and comedy superstar Kevin Hart. All three will appear in a daily comic review of the day’s events in Paris.      

ESPN’s most recognizable personality, Hollis native Stephen A. Smith, took the stage of Javits Center’s North Hall to promote June’s NBA Finals. He also bemoaned the rash of injuries which have befallen the Knicks which he felt ended their chances for their first NBA title in over fifty years. Sadly, Smith was proven prophetic on Sunday when the Knicks badly lost Game 7 to the Pacers.    

Image Credit: ABC

Pro football is king, and that was reflected at the upfronts. FOX Sports had Tom Brady come to the Hammerstein Ballroom to confirm he would be joining former Mets air personality Kevin Burkhardt calling the marquee games on the network. Similarly, ESPN brought out former Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce to discuss how excited he is to be joining the “Monday Night Football” studio show.     

It was not long ago when the top two streaming services, Amazon’s Prime Video and Netflix, showed little interest in competing for the big-dollar rights to broadcast games of the major sports leagues. Things have changed. Prime Video became the TV home for the NFL’s Thursday Night package in 2022, and last year it debuted a Black Friday game, which the Jets, of course, lost.

Dolphins defeat Jets in first-ever NFL Black Friday game – Image Credit: Yahoo Sports

The Black Friday game is back on Prime Video, while Netflix will be televising a pair of NFL Christmas Day games.     

The streamers are also giving ESPN a run for its money when it comes to sports documentaries. Prime Video had both tennis great Roger Federer and NASCAR legend, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. address its audience about their upcoming docs, while Netflix announced a series on the history of the Dallas Cowboys.      

The bravest executive was Warner Media’s sports czar Luis Silberwasser who admitted at Madison Square Garden the TNT Network may lose its NBA rights in 2025 when its current league contract expires.     

Prime Video joins ESPN, CBS and Ion as television partners to WNBA

The WNBA, which for years was an afterthought for TV execs, has emulated both the NFL and the NBA by creating packages for different networks. Prime Video announced at its upfront that it would be joining ESPN, CBS, and Ion as a television partner. Prime also has a deal with the National Women’s Soccer League.     

Roku wins the rights to broadcast Sunday morning MLB games 

The Roku Channel, a free digital channel, has won the rights to broadcast this year’s Sunday morning Major League Baseball games which start at noon or earlier in the Eastern Time Zone. Comcast’s streaming service, Peacock, had the rights in 2023 but were not willing to renew them for this season. Roku’s CEO is Charlie Collier whose previous job was CEO of Fox Broadcasting.

Image Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

Fox Sports has had a long relationship with Major League Baseball. MLB’s familiarity with Collier was a huge factor in the revival of the early Sunday baseball TV package.

US Open Men’s Final set to air on ABC on September 8th 

The US Open men’s final will air on ABC at 2 PM on September 8. This will mark the first time in over a decade the men’s championship at Arthur Ashe Stadium will be shown on an old school broadcast network in a decade. CBS lost the rights to telecast the US Open to ESPN in 2013. Since ABC does not have any Sunday afternoon NFL obligations, this move makes sense. ESPN and ABC are both Disney properties. 

ESPN, Warner Media, and Fox Sports announced Venu will be the name of their sports bundling streaming joint venture which is scheduled to launch this fall. 

Telemundo + SNL Presentation with Marcelo Hernández 

“Saturday Night Live” cast member Marcelo Hernández performed standup comedy at the Telemundo presentation. “Soccer is far more fun to watch on Spanish television, than on English language stations.

Marcello Hernández on Weekend Update

Marcello Hernández on Weekend Update – Image Credit: NBC

When a player scores a goal, an English language announcer will say, ‘He scored!’” In an obvious reference to the legendary Andres Cantor, Marcelo added, “When a player scores in a soccer match, a Spanish announcer will scream “GOAL!!!!!,” holding the word as long as possible until he collapses!”

Conan O’Brien roasts Shaq!

NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal proved to be a good sport as Conan O’Brien roasted him on stage at the Warner Media upfront for being a promoter for every product imaginable. “When is Shake Shack Shaq coming?” Conan asked.  

Prime Video set to host a running spinoff of “Jeopardy” called “Pop Culture Jeopardy” 

In other television news, Prime Video will be running a spinoff of the TV quiz game “Jeopardy” called “Pop Culture Jeopardy!” All the ‘answers” will be related to film, music, and television.

Pop Culture Jeopardy!

Image credit: SONY Pictures

A Sony Pictures executive (Sony owns the rights to the game show) told me they are trying to revive “Sports Jeopardy!” which ran on the little-watched digital outlet, Crackle for a couple of years. 

Screen Vision makes their presence felt during Upfront Week in NYC 

Screen Vision Media took advantage of upfront week by having a presentation designed to remind ad buyers that promoting their clients during the coming attractions in movie theaters is a winning strategy. The main advantages are product ads on the big screen are more compelling than their counterparts, and people are less distracted when they buy a ticket to sit in a theater as opposed to being at home. Working against movie theaters are films playing on streaming services as soon as a month after they leave movie houses. Streaming services, along with high rents, have led to the closure of multiplexes across the country.    

Screen Vision hired actor Alec Baldwin to talk about films, especially the moviegoing experience. “People escape by going to the movies. You do not escape when you are sitting in your living room,” he stated. In a nod to his legendary shark salesman role in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” he modified his famous “ABC, always be closing” line to “ABC, always buy cinema!”

You can read more of Lloyd Carroll’s columns posted weekly on The Queens Chronicle.

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