Inside the Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront: ‘Superman’ For Sale!

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Upfront week’s reliance on films isn’t actually new but it is increasingly bizarre, as evidenced by the top of Wednesday morning’s Warner Bros. Discovery presentation kicking off with sizzle that prioritized features Furiosa, Dune: Part Two and Wonka — when new episodes of the HBO and Max’s flagship Game of Thrones spinoff, House of the Dragon, are just weeks away.

But the opening frames proved to be relatively misleading, as the 90-minute (notably David Zaslav free) pitch to advertisers focused almost exclusively on … advertising. And on linear TV, at that. Film was referenced, of course, but as a vehicle to get Procter & Gamble’s Olay in on the Barbie phenomenon. Ad sales execs literally offered up James Gunn’s first project of the new DC era to the room full of media buyers, asking who wants sponsorship deals ahead of its planned 2025 release: “Do you want to be in Superman?”

We’re probably not getting a version of the The Man of Steel with his cape adorned in logos like a NASCAR vehicle, but it did make one wonder — especially as the presentation wore on.

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After two days where advertising was essentially only spoken of as a concept, Warner Bros. Discovery hammered the Theater at Madison Square Garden crowd with example after example of how various brands have found their way under the vast programming umbrella. State Farm partnered with NBA All-Star Weekend and one of Guy Fieri’s umpteen Food Network shows. GMC’s Sierra pick-up truck was somehow involved in the recent season of HBO’s True Detective. Paint company Sherwin Williams apparently got in on the action for the most recent Shark Week. It was almost pandering, but isn’t that what we’re all in town for?

There were also a great many TV series on display. Casey Bloys, chair and CEO, HBO and Max Content, eventually did hype the hell out of House of the Dragon — albeit 15 minutes in — with a trailer for the coming season. There was also a notable emphasis on “the next 18 months” of programming, as some of the biggest highlights on the roster won’t be arriving this year. 2025 additions include second Game of Thrones spinoff A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, season two of runaway hit The Last of Us and season three of The White Lotus.

The latter got a special video, played exclusively for the room. It was a hybrid of scenes from the coming Thailand-set show and interviews with the cast including Natasha Rothwell, Carrie Coon and Parker Posey. I could be wrong but it seemed to be set to another rejiggered version of Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s absolute banger of an opening titles theme.

One more 2025 addition mentioned was the third cycle of And Just Like That. And, just as she has in the past, Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker commanded an outsized response from the room. During a presentation where the marquee cameos were Mindy Kaling, Anderson Cooper, Charles Barkley and Hacks star Hannah Einbinder, Parker stepping out on stage inspired literal squeals of approval. She’s clearly still got it.

Deviating from entertainment programming, the most hype was bestowed upon recent ID documentary series Quiet on Set. Before touting the 29 million viewers and 1 billion minutes viewed across platforms, US Networks chair and CEO Kathleen Finch told the room that their company “remains believers in the power of linear.”

That certainly hasn’t been the dominant opinion this week, possibly best articulated on Tuesday night when Jimmy Kimmel called out Disney boss Bob Iger for trying to sell ABC and, insult to injury, not finding any interested buyer.

Speaking of traditional TV, recently-installed CNN CEO Mark Thompson made a very compelling pitch for his vision of the news network. “We’re going to double down,” he said. “In a world full of noisy options, CNN should stand for the facts. And we don’t believe news is just politics.”

Thompson promised new programming — and don’t forget branding opportunities… — in verticals such as business and tech, climate and weather, health and wellness, sports and entertainment. He also had the luxury of announcing his just-brokered deals with both President Biden and GOP nominee Donald Trump for the first debate of the 2024 presidential campaign, one that will take place June 27 on CNN. (No noisy opinions there, I’m sure.)

Examples of advertising may have kept coming back (and back and back) but did at least graciously devolve into silliness. Conan O’Brien and Shaquille O’Neal closed out the presentation with a list of sponsorship spoofs for the advertiser-friendly Inside the NBA analyst. That was, of course, after O’Brien took a bite of one very real O’Neal tie-in, a slice of Papa John’s Shaq-a-Roni Pizza, and promptly spat it out on the floor.

O’Neal is on the chain’s board of directors, so the stunt shouldn’t hurt Warner Bros. Discovery’s rapport with the company’s ad team.

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