Last week was supposed to have seen the beginning of the upfront presentations when TV networks in the US announce their line-ups with great fanfare, but COVID-19 has changed everything, forcing media giants such as AT&T to rethink its strategy.

The multinational telco and owner of WarnerMedia is finding that there are so many variables now when it comes to media-buying and the upfronts that it is having to operate with a new set of principles, according to its chief brand officer, Fiona Carter.

Speaking in an interview with Beet.TV, she explained that AT&T just doesn’t know what can be bought at a traditional upfront this year. “I don’t know when there’ll be new episodes, original content. I don’t know, frankly, if upfront pricing drops below scatter pricing, whether I’ll get a return on that,” she said.

Consequently, AT&T is adapting to the changed circumstances by working according to four key principles – impactful, or “eyeball-heavy”, content; surgical targeting; being adaptive; and working with a coalition of partners.

“First, there is no doubt that we are after the most premium content. Consumption is changing and I want eyeball-heavy content,” Carter said, referring to live news and also to the innovative ways new programming is being made now, such as Saturday Night Live and talk shows being broadcast from the hosts’ homes. “I’m laser-focused on identifying that kind of premium programming,” she said.

“Second, I want to be truly surgical, so how can I go and find the audiences that I need right now? We have had a massive upswing of demand for our business services. That has suddenly become a primary and priority audience for us,” she added.

AT&T is the first public safety network in the US, she explained, meaning there are thousands of nurses, doctors, sheriffs and others who need support from the company. “So, I have very, very precise and surgical needs,” she said.

Carter also revealed that AT&T has had to become more adaptive. “Never before have we seen so much change, so much evolution and such a dynamic movement in how people are thinking and feeling and what they’re doing. Frankly, I need my media to be able to adjust to that,” she said.

“We have seen this swing from obsessive devouring of live news to taking the time out to get some escapism through primetime finales, classic dramas, all of the old content that perhaps we thought we would never watch. I need the flexibility to flex into that without penalty.”

AT&T’s fourth principle is to work with “great” partners to bring these tactics together in a collective manner. “I want a coalition and us all focused ultimately on the right goal, which is how do I find my audiences and how do I follow my audiences?” Carter said.

“And [also] how can I ensure business and brand outcomes? So, I am very interested in working during the upfronts to align some of our strategic partnerships and buys to business and brand KPIs.”

Sourced from Beet.TV; additional content by WARC staff