What’s Up?: Highlights from the Upfronts Season

30/11/2017

Nothing signifies the drawing to the end of another year in TV media more than upfronts season. This month Channel 4 and ITV hosted the industry to look back over the successes of the past year and reveal what’s to come in 2018. From ITV’s glitzy Gala hosted by Emma Willis to Channel 4 treating guests to a #nightwith4, audiences were treated to comic interviews, celebrity performances (including appearances from Jennifer Hudson and Craig David), and some insight into the minds of TV’s biggest players.

ITV kickstarted the festivities with their annual Gala, hosted at the London Palladium. Looking back at 2017, the star of the show was the phenomenal success of Love Island. The segment, presented by Love Island narrator Iain Stirling, covered how the show’s highs and lows captivated younger audiences, making ITV2 the top performing channel for 16-34 year-olds and ‘100% their type on paper’.

Programming was a hot topic for ITV, from returning favourites Dancing on Ice to their 2018 focus on drama. Q1 will see the release of Next of Kin, starring Jack Davenport and Emmy Award winner Archie Panjabi, and Trauma, while later in the year an epic new adaptation of Vanity Fair will be hitting TV screens.

The following week saw medialand descend upon Shoreditch for a night with Channel 4. The night was kicked off by Jonathan Allen, as he introduced and interviewed Alex Mahon, the new Chief Executive of Channel 4 – and his new boss! The bulk of the presentation focused on programming for the coming year; new original comedy (Lee and Dean), questionable reality TV (5* Hotel), returning formats (Ackley Bridge) and new dramas (Kiri).

The biggest announcement came from both ITV and Channel 4, however, as they announced their plans to partner with Sorenson Media to look at bespoke targeting solutions across smart TVs – their answer to Sky’s AdSmart proposition. While it has been rumoured that both saleshouses are in ongoing conversations with Sky AdSmart, this would be an independent step forward and create competition within the market where previously there has been none.

While the development of data-driven TV targeting for both Channel 4 and ITV is in the early stages and will only progress over the next year, what is certain is that both channels have put significant investment behind programming to ensure another successful year.

Also joining upfronts season this year was YouTube. Its Brandcast event kicked off with the Samba dancers and a showcase of some of the best content and advertising of the year. The party atmosphere was soon tempered as Ronan Harris took to the stage; the event hosted just one week after The Times had gone live with another exposé into advertising on the platform, meaning the brand safety issue was one that couldn’t be ignored. He was quick to point to improvements in the automated detection of inappropriate content; on-going consultation with the four industry bodies; and work being done to switch off offensive comments on videos, but the room was left with the feeling that this was very much a work in progress.

Highlights included a focus on investment in longer-form premium content and series-length shows, but, despite impressive speeches from Content Creators and a guest turn from Kurupt FM and Craig David (again), they couldn’t quite re-re-wind the clock to wipe the brand safety concerns aside.

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