As any network ad sales exec will tell you, planning an advertising upfront event is a job in and of itself. And while the upfront season is in full swing—and there’s so much more to come—we thought we’d take a moment to acknowledge a few nets presenting on the circuit that have gone above and beyond.
Best Party: FX. On midtown’s windy west side FX threw a bowling tournament at Lucky Strike. Good form. There’s nothing like bowling shoes to bring stars like Louie C.K., Timothy Olyphant and Charlie Sheen down to earth and approachable. The youthful crowd was upbeat, the music booming and the air celebratory. You’d expect nothing less from a net looking be a big player in late night TV, with Sheen’s “Anger Management,” Russell Brand’s “Strangely Uplifting” and a Chris Rock production with W. Kamau Bell as additions to its powerful Thursday night lineup.
Biggest Entertainment: Nickelodeon. Sorry, Charlie. But who’s bigger than Michael Bay? The “Transformers Trilogy” producer, behind the 2013 live-action feature “Ninja Turtles,” presented a peek of a 3D storyboard for the film, to premiere following the TMNT series on Nick. Both the massive storyboard and the sizzle reel touting his productions matched Bay’s bigger-is-better sensibility. Nick Cannon, Keke Palmer, boy band sensation One Direction and "X-Factor"’s Rachel Crow added to the all-star talent with performances and announcements.
Best Design: Bravo. To signify its brand new passion point, Digital by Bravo, the net strung neon colored lights on the ceilings, walls and elevators of Center 548’s pristine white spaces. Bravo thought bubbles doubled as banquettes, wallpaper and even multimedia screens. And since the theme was all things digital, a slew of tablets, smartphones and laptops mounted on a wall caught attendees’ attention at the reception’s entryway.
Best Reveal: Cartoon Network. Beyond touting ratings growth, how do you impress advertisers when animation is your core product? You do a live show. To celebrate its 20-year anniversary, CN brought behind-the-scenes to center stage. Actors playing the voices behind the net’s most popular characters read their parts while clips shown on a screen. Accompanying the actors on stage was an unassuming guy in a lab coat, charged with physically producing the sound—in this case, by banging on a shopping cart, throwing some tires together and playing some music blocks. The birthday party finished strong: Curtains parted, revealing an entire symphony playing the score.
Most Sarcastic: IFC. This accolade might not be fitting for another network, but it works for IFC. At the net’s first ever upfront, called “Upfront-landia” after its hit show “Portlandia,” the evening’s MC Scott Aukerman launched dig after dig at the network and its executives. But he can do that, because he’s the host/creator of IFC’s upcoming show “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and creator of “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.” Here’s a sample: “Ever since my parents came home with that first cable box, it’s always been my dream to host an IFC upfront.” Self-deprecating humor? Check. Live improv show? Check. Aukerman’s witticisms, and even just his presence, proved a point—that the net does in fact know its audience and it’s attracting more of them. “We’ve lived with them in their environment, like ‘Gorillas in the Mist,’” said IFC pres Evan Shapiro. The presentation included a video detailing a few of the demo’s habits and preferences—according the “responsible rebels” rulebook. Whatever you do, do not call them hipsters.
Most Family-Friendly: Sitting pretty at the top of the kids 6-11 demo, Disney reserved plenty of +1’s for the family at its Hard Rock Café NYC event. Advertisers and their families mingled and danced with the stars, like Disney Channel’s Debby Ryan, took photo ops with Marvel characters, mocked up a digital graffiti wall and made flipbooks as mementos. If nothing less, the advertisers present will likely never hear the end of it from their kids. Point Disney.