NEW YORK — Just six weeks after the closing of a powerhouse media merger, Warner Bros. Discovery held its first upfront presentation on Wednesday in front of a capacity crowd at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Company executives and a long roster of celebrity partners pitched the newly formed media giant as equivalent to the fifth broadcast network, but remained tight-lipped about how or when a proposed combined streaming platform would roll out, even as ad-supported video on demand is poised to be an area of investment and development for the company.
"We see a significant opportunity to extend our existing best-in-class advanced ad products on both [HBO Max and Discovery+], while exploring new ad products around the areas of interactivity, commerce and contextual targeting," JB Perrette, CEO and president of global streaming and interactive for the company, said at the event.
Warner Bros. Discovery's portfolio of channels and brands — spanning HBO, CNN, TNT, TBS, HGTV, Food Network and more — has had a year-to-date audience in prime time among the coveted 25 to 54 demographic that is larger than the four broadcast networks combined, CEO David Zaslav said during the presentation. Plus, its HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming networks are reaching younger, more diverse audiences — 80% of whom watch on a big TV set, with over half cord-cutters — allowing advertisers to extend their reach into non-cable homes.
Along with ad-free options, both HBO Max and Discovery+ offer ad-light options that have earned high marks from consumers for ad load and ad attention, per Hub Entertainment Research data cited during the presentation. At the close of the first quarter, the company announced more than 100 million global direct-to-consumer subscribers around the world and boasted high engagement and low churn compared to competitors.
The company's advertising offerings include custom partnerships that integrate brands into Warner Bros. Discovery content, data-driven linear addressable ads that are available for 60% of all pay TV households, expanded programmatic capabilities and a partnership with Open AP around cross-publisher insights and transactional flexibility, per chief U.S. advertising sales officer Jon Steinlauf.
The company has also partnered with Comscore, iSpot.tv and VideoAmp to help develop a multi-currency marketplace, a priority of all media conglomerates as the shift to streaming has undermined Nielsen's long-term dominance of TV measurement.
Warner Bros. Discovery will allow advertisers to buy ads with its new Premiere package that combines ads across the company's highest-rated programs in a single plan that has a lower CPM than traditional broadcast. Compared to traditional prime-time broadcast buys, advertisers will see an average of 55% more gross ratings points and 23% more reach, with higher search engagement, Steinlauf said.
"We reach over 230 million people every month on our platforms. A high percentage of them are upscale, well educated and diverse. They trust our brands and our talent — that trust powers engagement and inspires them to buy new things," Steinlauf noted.
Affluent, 50-plus viewers in the baby boomer and Gen X demographics account for over 50% of all U.S. consumer spending, and Warner Bros. Discovery reaches 88% of that audience every month. Plus, the company will offer pricing incentives to advertisers to expand to broader targets, like 18- or 25-plus.
Content is king
Traditionally, an upfront allows a network to make a flashy presentation about what content it has in store for consumers and the advertisers that covet their attention. In that way, Warner Bros. Discovery's first presentation did not disappoint, using the Hulu Theater to deliver blockbuster-sized teasers, celebrity appearances and music from host Jennifer Hudson. Company executives stressed that its portfolio, spanning scripted and non-scripted; TV, movies and documentaries; sports and news; and international content, has something for consumers of all ages, genders and multicultural backgrounds.
"Winners in the streaming business are those companies that provide the biggest global consumer base with the greatest stories from brands that act as curators for clear and compelling propositions across a diverse set of content genres that provide the broadest choice," Perrette said.
To make its case, Warner Bros. Discovery called in the big guns, with live appearances by sports legends Shaquille O'Neal, Wayne Gretsky and Pedro Martinez; CNN anchor Anderson Cooper; chef Bobby Flay; wrestler-turned-TV personality John Cena; "Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe and more.
Superstars like Oprah Winfrey and Guy Fieri pre-taped their appearances, but Hudson hosted a bizarre interview with "Property Brothers" star Jonathan Scott and rapper Lil Jon. The most memorable moment came when pop star Lizzo, announcing a documentary due on HBO Max this fall, shocked the crowd with her unfiltered banter. And even comic book characters from the Warner Bros. Discovery portfolio got in on the fun.
"Think of the ad loads. Think of the impressions. Think of all the corporate buzzwords," said animated Batman villain Harley Quinn, as voiced by Kaley Cuoco.