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For Context: The Upfronts

In the past year, Netflix and Disney+ have added ad tiers to their streaming services, meaning Apple TV+ (which is rumored to be exploring an ad tier) and Amazon Prime Video stand alone as the top streaming platforms that exist without ads. Now Netflix is putting an unofficial stamp on its plunge into ads by making its first presentation at the TV upfronts.

The upfronts are one of the oldest-running processes in media, going back to the 1960s. Netflix’s emergence at the time-honored annual tradition is another signal that the upfronts are undergoing a big-time face-lift.

Sixty-one years after premiering, the upfronts are being reimagined, thanks to streaming and always-on advertising. In the latest edition of For Context, we break down the evolution of the upfronts, from Don Draper to data-driven.

The upfronts emerged from the Mad Men era of advertising, after ABC President Oliver Treyz developed a plan to entice advertisers by timing series premieres around Labor Day. Now advertisers pour around $20 billion into the upfronts every year, according to Insider Intelligence, with more and more of their investment going away from traditional TV and into connected TV.

While streaming has fundamentally changed the way we consume media this century, it’s only been invited to upfront conversations in recent years. And while traditional TV networks like CBS, NBC, and ABC have held upfront presentations since the ’60s, their streaming platforms are now playing a major role in their pitches to advertisers.