Striking Hollywood Writers Disrupt TV’s Major Ad Event

Dozens of imposing writers march near the building’s entrance Monday morning as a horde of marketers headed to Radio City Music Hall to attend a major event hosted by NBCUniversal. greeted them.

“NBC, you can’t, pay the writers right!” they chanted.

As the writers’ strike enters its third week, demonstrators are following a decades-old tradition of media companies holding lavish events to promote their line-ups to convince advertisers. We are aiming to interfere with the so-called up front week.

“So ‘Saturday Night Live’ didn’t air?” one marketer told another outside Radio City.

Even before Upfront officially kicked off on Monday, the impressive writers had already managed to shake up the event. Netflix, which introduced commercials last year, was gearing up for Wednesday’s first-ever upfront at the prestigious Paris Theater. But as executives grew more concerned about the demonstrations, the streaming company abruptly canceled the in-person event late last week, opting instead to host a virtual event.

Other major media companies, including Fox, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery, have also decided to go further. Still, media executives are anxiously awaiting the repercussions from the prospect of hundreds of reporters converging on the picket line.

Text messages flowed all weekend. Will more companies cancel in-person pre-presentations? For some marketers, the sight and sound of marching writers is unbearable, leaving hundreds of empty seats in theaters like the Javits Center and Madison Square Garden. Will it stay? And how much will the chaotic situation affect the bottom line?

Negotiations with the Writers Guild of America, the union representing major Hollywood studios and writers, broke down on May 1, immediately sending 11,500 TV and film writers on strike. The authors argue that wages have stagnated and working conditions have deteriorated in the streaming era.

But the writers aren’t just demonstrating outside the big studios. It has also successfully postponed or canceled some productions whose scripts are still in cans and are still being shot. They also ventured further afield, setting up pickets outside productions in Maplewood, New Jersey, Chicago and Philadelphia. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos has canceled his appearance at the PEN America Literary Gala, citing threats from demonstrators. And there are serious concerns in the theater world that the Tony Awards could be postponed if writers go ahead with their picketing plans.

Even without the strikes, the atmosphere surrounding the Upfront this year was bleak. Advertising dollars remain an important source of revenue for media companies, typically transacting billions of dollars in the weeks and months following upfront payments. However, the ad market is sluggish due to declining network and cable viewership and widespread economic concerns. Marketers have already indicated that they are not going to spend as freely as they used to up front.

“This year looks like a buyer’s market,” said Arjan Dyke, chief marketing officer at Ad buyers “are responding to how clients feel, act, and live. There are also economic headwinds.”

NBCUniversal has been going through a particularly chaotic situation in recent weeks. In late April, the CEO of NBCUniversal was fired for misconduct. Then, late last week, NBCUniversal head of advertising and longtime front-line host Linda Yaccarino abruptly quit the company to become Twitter’s chief executive officer.

Yaccarino was rehearsing for this year’s upfront by Thursday, when Elon Musk tweeted that Twitter had hired a new chief executive. NBCUniversal announced on Friday that she was retiring with immediate effect, prompting the company to scramble to redo the event.

On the front lines of NBCUniversal, the impact of the strike was clear from the start. The rally is usually a star-studded event, 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 has introduced a trailer for “Saturday Night Live.” And MSNBC’s Stephanie Rule previewed the company’s upcoming drama lineup.

As the trailer airs, featuring NBC legends Amy Poehler and Law & Order executive producer Dick Wolfe, the interview reveals it was taped in April, before the writers’ strike began. It started with a title card.

Still, the company was able to book some high-profile guests. Country singers Reba McEntire and Nick Jonas will serve as judges on next season’s The Voice.

And despite the slashed presentation, fears of alienating marketers were groundless, with Radio City Music Hall nearly every seat taken.

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