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In the television industry, an upfront is a gathering at the start of important advertising sales periods, held by television network executives and attended by major advertisers and the media. It is so named because of its main purpose, to allow marketers to buy television commercial airtime "up front", or several months before the television season begins.
In the United States, the major broadcast networks' upfronts traditionally occurred in New York City during the third week of May, the last full week of that month's sweeps period. That has changed over the years with the 2017 season now starting in early March and running through May.
The networks announce their fall primetime schedules, including tentative launch dates (i.e., fall or midseason) for new television programming, which may be "picked up" the week before. The programming announcements themselves are usually augmented with clips from the new television series, extravagant musical numbers, comedic scenes, and appearances by network stars, and take place at grand venues such as Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, or Carnegie Hall. It is also the time when it is announced (by virtue of not being on the fall schedule) which shows are canceled for the next season.
The broadcast upfront has seen significant change as advertisers shifted dollars to digital. While the advertising research firm Standard Media Index reported “softening” in 2017. That trend is slowing, according to the same report, which revealed that the last quarter of 2016 saw “the first glimpse of a flattening Digital market.” Year-over-year sales were up 9% over last year's 35% growth in the same period. In the first quarter of 2016, digital gains hovered at 6% versus the 19% growth of the prior year. Big data and new software algorithms for targeting specific consumers may reverse the trend. M'Lou Walker, CEO of the maker of the Zicam brand of cold remedy, talked about using big data and analytics allowed her precise targeting, flexibility and measurable results of $1.50 of profit for every $1 spent on television advertising.
In recent years, the networks have mostly revealed this information to the public a few days before the actual presentation. Most cable networks present earlier in the spring since they usually program for the summer months; press attention to these announcements is usually much lighter.
Historically, the fall television schedule was created to help auto advertisers promote their new car models.
Upfronts in Canada are similar but occur in either the last week of May or the first week of June, after networks have had a chance to buy Canadian rights to new American series. Both broadcast and non-broadcast channels make presentations, with a single event per ownership group.
Upfronts in Australia are a relatively new concept to the industry, introduced in the 2010s, and are not always a lavish affair. Upfronts are typically held between October and December before the start of the Southern Hemisphere's summer non-ratings period, highlighting programming for the next calendar year.
Unlike American upfronts, a detailed schedule for the year ahead is not typically released. Announcements regarding new programs, axing confirmations and casting news are revealed to advertisers and the media. All three commercial networks (Seven, Nine and Ten) as well as both public broadcasters (ABC and SBS) hold upfront events for their suite of channels. The dominant subscription platform Foxtel showcase programming airing across all their cable channels, rather than each cable network holding separate events.
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