As scores of marketers made their way to Radio City Music Hall for a major NBCUniversal event Monday morning, they were greeted by dozens of striking writers who marched near the building’s entrances.
“NBC you’re no good, pay your writers like you should!” they chanted.
As the writers strike Entering its third week, protesters aim to disrupt what is known as Upfront Week, a decades-old tradition in which media companies host lavish events to promote their programs and thereby attract advertisers.
“That’s why ‘Saturday Night Live’ wasn’t on, right?” one marketer remarked to another outside of Radio City.
Even before Monday, when the riots officially began, the striking writers had successfully disrupted the event. Netflix, which introduced commercials last year, was poised to air its first premiere at the iconic Parisian theater on Wednesday. But when executives grew concerned about the demonstrations, the streaming company reacted abruptly canceled the face-to-face event Late last week and decided to do it virtual instead.
Other major media companies — including Fox, Disney, and Warner Bros. Discovery — have decided to move forward. Still, media executives are anxiously awaiting the consequences of the prospect of hundreds of writers picketing.
Text messages flew back and forth all weekend: Would more companies cancel their in-person previews? Would the sight and sound of marching writers be too much for some marketers, freeing up hundreds of seats at venues like the Javits Center and the Theater at Madison Square Garden? And how badly would a chaotic scene affect your bottom line?
Negotiations between major Hollywood studios and the Writers Guild of America, the union that represents writers, collapsed on May 1, and 11,500 television and film writers immediately went on strike. The authors claim that in the age of streaming, their wages have stagnated and working conditions have deteriorated.
But the writers aren’t only demonstrating outside of the big studios. They have also managed to delay or cancel some productions where the scripts are still ongoing and filming is ongoing. They’ve also ventured far afield, picketing productions in Maplewood, New Jersey, Chicago and Philadelphia. Ted Sarandos, the co-head of Netflix, has canceled an appearance at the PEN America Literary Gala over threats from protesters. And since are serious concerns It is well known in the theater world that the Tony Awards will be postponed if the writers go ahead with the plan to demonstrate the awards ceremony.
Even without the strike, the mood surrounding this year’s offensives was bleak. Ad dollars remain a major source of revenue for media companies, and billions of dollars are typically traded in the weeks and months following upfront payments. However, the advertising market was weak due to declining network and cable TV viewership and general economic concerns. Marketers have already hinted that they aren’t ready to spend as much money as in previous upfront investments.
Arjan Dijk, Booking.com’s chief marketing officer, said: “This year it’s looking like a buyer’s market.” And Kelly Metz, managing director of Advanced TV at Omnicom Media Group, said ad buyers were reacting to it, as were their customers going, how they are, and how they are, and that there are some significant economic headwinds.
NBCUniversal has been going through a particularly chaotic period in recent weeks. In late April, the NBCUniversal CEO was fired for improper conduct. And late last week, Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s advertising executive and longtime mistress of ceremonies, abruptly left the company to become Twitter’s CEO.
Mrs. Yaccarino had was at rehearsals for this year’s Upfront as recently as Thursday, until Elon Musk tweeted that he had hired a new CEO for Twitter. NBCUniversal announced Friday that she was leaving the company effective immediately, forcing the company to overhaul the event.
At NBCUniversal, the impact of the strike was evident from the start. The gatherings are usually high-profile, but with many actors and celebrities refusing to cross the picket line, the company turned to its news department for help. Morning Joe host Willie Geist introduced a Saturday Night Live trailer. And MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle gave a preview of the company’s upcoming drama programming.
When a trailer appeared starring NBC legends like Amy Poehler and Law & Order executive producer Dick Wolf, it began with a title card that revealed the interviews were taped in April, before the Writers’ strike began.
Nevertheless, the company was able to book some well-known guests. Reba McEntire, the country singer who will serve as a judge on next season’s “The Voice,” made an appearance, as did Nick Jonas.
And even with significantly reduced presentations, fears that marketers would stay away were unfounded – almost every seat at Radio City Music Hall was occupied.