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Health Content on TV? From Upfronts to Newfronts, a Clear Divide

June 3, 2019
Posted by Bill Veltre

This year’s network TV Upfronts were fabulously traditional. But for the health and pharma marketers tuned in, there was more static than show.

Planning season for advertising unofficially kicked off this past month with the Upfronts, a series of events held each May by the major television networks to preview new and returning programming for the upcoming year. For the who’s-who of advertisers and the media in attendance, they represent an opportunity to preplan airtime for commercial spots, allowing for “up front” investments on those spots several months before the television season begins.  

ABC held the first upfront presentation in 1962, hoping to entice mostly car advertisers with the network’s new shows. Today, they have evolved into much larger productions, with each network putting on impressive shows in iconic New York venues, such as Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, and the Beacon Theater. Senior executives are on hand to kick things off, touting stats on their network’s reach and frequency to the crowd. And the programming announcements—with surprise musical numbers, comedy acts, and appearances by many network stars, accompanying clips from both new and returning series —rarely disappoint.

This year’s Upfronts included announcements of several new dramas, news programs, comedies, sports coverages, game shows, and even some live sitcom broadcasts. There was plenty of buzz around reboots of classics (Beverly Hills 90210), returning favorites (This Is Us, SVU, The Voice) and noteworthy finales (Modern Family, Empire).

Addressing the elephant in the living room

Importantly, there were also clear signs that the traditional broadcast industry is beginning to evolve and respond to the realities of television in 2019. It is no secret nor surprise that linear TV viewership has been impacted by the booming success of streaming services, the growing number of households with connected TVs, and measurable increases in over-the-top (OTT) and video-on-demand (VOD) media services.

Most presentations acknowledged this changing landscape, showcasing notable collaborations and acquisitions, and illustrating ways that both streaming and traditional linear TV can coexist and complement one another. Still, the networks seemed to promote an overall narrative that linear TV is still thriving, and that despite society’s growing “binge-watching” mentality, many demographics still watch and enjoy live television.

Looking for health content? Better keep flipping

Unfortunately, for health and pharma marketers, the amount of health-focused content in programming left a lot to be desired. Overall, most of the presentations were geared primarily toward attracting large dollar figures to sponsor marquee broadcast events—typically not an area where pharma or health sponsors are big players.

There were a few standouts, including an Eli Lily integration sponsoring a movement around metastatic breast cancer awareness on Good Morning America. But perhaps the biggest was Turner and Lionsgate TV’s, Chasing The Cure. Hosted by executive producer Ann Curry, the series focuses on patients with undiagnosed and misdiagnosed conditions.

But the actual Chasing the Cure broadcast is just one element of the show’s overall experience:  according to WarnerMedia, “Through a 24/7 digital experience and interactive components including live, second-screen experiences, suggestions, along with highly accredited doctors, [viewers] will be able to share their experiences, advice and recommendations on what’s happening during the broadcast in real time – all toward helping find cures for people with mysterious conditions.” Networks, health brands, and marketers should pay attention to how Chasing The Cure and its innovative approach to health content is received by audiences.

Beyond those examples, however, health topics in general were limited, if showcased at all. Returning hit shows and buzzworthy reboots are particularly large platforms that present great opportunities to reach the right health consumers. Yet the networks shared little in the way of innovative health integrations or other content that could help support and guide patients to potentially life-changing treatments and solutions.

Of course, policy limitations in discussing healthcare topics place important restrictions on what writers, brands, and marketers can and cannot say, but with a little creativity these topics can be incorporated in fully-compliant ways. So the question remains why the largest awareness medium is only scratching the surface of health related topics. If it is the force of a channel that we believe it to be, shouldn’t linear TV be able to carry the heavy healthcare-related topics that patients want to know more about?

A home for health on digital video

In contrast to the Upfronts, there was plenty of health chatter at this year’s NewFronts. First held in 2008, the NewFronts showcase what’s next in digital media and provide brands and media buyers access to the latest creative media opportunities from premium digital content partners.

Partners in the digital space pushed hard this year to expand on original content, provide more lucrative service packages to consumers, and experiment with ways to make the TV viewing experience more unique. Targeting and data were consistent discussion topics: everyone has a “tool,” a “database,” or an “engine” to help pinpoint the right consumer.

This year’s NewFronts clearly established that a number of digital content providers have embraced healthcare marketing, including health in programming, sponsorship, targeting, and measurement. Of particular note is Condé Nast’s forthcoming health network. Looking to replicate their successes with other video content—such as their Bon Appétit food and cooking content—Condé Nast Health plans to distribute quality health content at scale across their brands. Their health content will feature beauty and other lifestyle twists, and will be backed by precise targeting and measurement coveted by marketers.

While still not the norm, it is encouraging that partners are beginning to realize that the health journey for patients is an emotionally-driven experience that can be depicted with high-quality, empathic content. This evolution will take time, but as consumers continue to shift from a linear world into a more digitally-centric ecosystem, this intention to expand in the health space has the power to truly empower patients and save lives.

The HealthFront™: an industry-disrupting solution

Publicis Health Media is leading the charge into health-centric digital opportunities with the 2019 HealthFront™. This event is the first event of its kind, uniting inspiring human stories with health industry innovations through the curation of original content, partnerships, and technologies to transform how companies identify and deliver solutions.

PHM created the HealthFront™ to fill an unmet need for clients in the health industry—a market-shaping forum for brands to connect with the most innovative opportunities and ideas. This inaugural upfront offers PHM clients a first-mover opportunity for the emerging products, services and ideas that are driving real innovation and business opportunities in the health industry.

The true fact is that our conversations in the consumer health space are different. There are unique needs that need to be influenced by messaging that is not trying to sell, but to empathically guide during a potentially challenging health moment. The HealthFront™ provides an opportunity to focus fully on these moments.



Bill Veltre
, VP, Media, brings over a decade of health and wellness media experience to PHM. He has worked across more than a dozen categories on brands at all life cycle stages, from launch to sunset.

Bill’s strengths include robust management skills, well-rounded marketplace knowledge, and an ability to establish authentic strategic partnerships with clients that deliver positive business results through innovative media recommendations.

His involvement in portfolio planning, brand optimization, campaign development, and cross-functional integration have established him as a team player focused on driving business impact.

Connect with Bill on LinkedIn


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