Media Redefined: Getting upfront return on luck in New York
by Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) Recently I spent a week in New York and it was fascinating to reconnect with a city that I hadn’t visited for 20 years. The city and Times Square have changed hugely, not only in terms of skyline and number of blocks and digital billboards but in more subtle ways. This was reinforced when I realised that that week was the week of the broadcast “Upfronts”, held every year in New York.
Upfronts is where the networks introduce or reintroduce to media agencies and clients the shows that they’ve committed to for the TV “season”, which traditionally starts in autumn in the US. It’s a marathon and crowded week of impact presentations and lots of parties, parading actors and directors, and trying to build momentum behind every show. They need to convince advertisers that whatever they are offering is going to be the next big thing.
Interestingly, this year, fewer shows were presented as networks have become tighter in their selection and are harsh on cancelling shows that aren’t working. There were just 38 new scripted shows vs 42 the previous year and it’s the lowest tally for five years.
What this highlights is the difficulty and risk in making the decision to go with a series. In the advertising world, there is enough angst in committing to a TV ad but these budgets pale into insignificance when compared to making the call on whether to invest in a 13-part TV series.
At the conference I attended, Richard Plepler, the HBO CEO, came to speak to us. It was fascinating to listen to his journey with the channel which made its name with The Sopranos, and Sex and the City in the 90’s and then had a few lean years. Key to the turnaround was the decision he was involved in to commit to Game of Thrones, which has been so hugely successful. When you think about how ridiculous the script must have sounded at the first meeting for a gritty and real channel such as HBO, it’s amazing that it went for it and committed huge budgets.
What drove its decision-making? He spoke a lot about the culture of HBO and how it created the space for the right creative product to land. He talked about it in terms of an art gallery that artists want to come and hang their paintings in.
Are they breathing it?
Aligned to this was being able to make the call on which artists to go with and for this a simple question was asked: Are they breathing it? The way he described the passion and belief of the Game of Thrones creators gave me goose bumps.
On the flipside, a show such as Vinyl didn’t last longer than a series. That was an easy decision as it had Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger involved. He summarised their success with a simple term: return on luck.
Making a call on a show could be seen as hit or miss but create the right culture and environment, and, more than likely, the big hits will come. So expect a mix of revived and new shows at the end of the year, plus lots of spinoffs, from Grey’s Anatomy does firefighting to a Big Bang Theory offshoot called Young Sheldon. Revivals are also big: Roseanne, Will and Grace and Dynasty for starters. The big success from last year This is Us has been renewed, and two new shows are creating a big buzz: The Gifted and The Orville. Let’s see.
New York always feels like a happening and optimistic place which pushes you to try your luck, showing that, if you create the right environment, the chances of a return on luck are much greater.
Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) is managing director of Connect, an M&C Saatchi Company, with offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Martin has spent 18 years in the industry, and has previously worked at Ogilvy and was MD of MEC Nota Bene in Cape Town. He contributes the monthly “Media Redefined” column, in which he challenges norms in the media space, to MarkLives.com.