2021 Disney Upfront: Excitement for Rich Pipeline of Content
The Walt Disney Company showcased upcoming television and streaming series at the 2021 Disney Upfront presentation. This event is held annually to unveil the wealth of content the company is working on, specifically for advertisers.
This year’s upfront was presented virtually to an audience of 9,000.
“At The Walt Disney Company there’s a sense of optimism that anything and everything is possible. Productions are in full swing. Edit bays are buzzing. And fans are fired up. For decades, our company has been entertaining the world at the highest level, connecting the hearts and minds of billions of people through the power of story,” Rita Ferro, president of advertising sales for Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution.
Audience members were treated to an exciting glimpse into some of the stories that will be told in the coming year by The Walt Disney Company’s portfolio of brands.
What new stories will we be enjoying?
So what does that mean for us, the story-viewing audience? According to Disney, we can look forward to a “new primetime series premiering on ABC this fall, binge-worthy content launching on Hulu, awe-inspiring documentaries from National Geographic and live events and compelling sports programming from ESPN.”
ABC is the number one entertainment network for adults 18–49 for the second consecutive year. The number one new drama is Big Sky, and ABC airs three of the top five highest-rated entertainment series this season: Grey’s Anatomy, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.
At the 2021 Disney upfront, ABC previewed four new series that will debut on ABC during the 2021–22 season, all from Disney Television Studios:
- Abbott Elementary (comedy)
- Maggie (comedy)
- The Wonder Years (family drama/comedy) – inspired by the beloved award-winning series of the same name)
- Queens (drama) – from Zahir McGhee (Scandal) and starring hip hop legends Eve and Brandy.
Over the past two years, Hulu’s audience has increased 67 percent to 103 million ad-supported viewers.
Upcoming Hulu Originals include:
- Pam & Tommy, starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan
- The Girl from Plainville, starring Elle Fanning
- Dopesick, featuring an all-star cast led by Michael Keaton
- McCartney 3, 2, 1, a six-episode music documentary series event featuring Paul McCartney and super producer Rick Rubin. (coming July 16)
FX has placed a two-season order for Welcome to Wrexham, a docuseries tracking a working-class town in North Wales, UK. The docuseries chronicles Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds’ purchase and stewardship of the struggling Welsh Football Team Wrexham AFC.
Music legend Garth Brooks will narrate and executive produce the new documentary series National Parks, premiering in 2022.
The Hot Zone: Anthrax, starring Daniel Dae Kim and Tony Goldwyn, will premiere Thanksgiving weekend.
Voices of Change
Voices of Change is meant to be an entertainment, sports and news hub is centered on diverse life in America. It will create content to feature communities of color, LGBTQ+ stories and deep dives into cultural moments. The hope is to elevate underrepresented voices and galvanize change from all audiences.
One program unveiled at the upfront is the anthology Women of the Movement. This tells the story of the determined pursuit of justice by Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley.
The Undefeated is a multiplatform content initiative designed to to explore the intersection of race, sports and culture.
The Undefeated and Getty Images announced a creative agreement to collaborate on visual stories that spotlight the Black experience.
“Work in Progress,” a free, digital content series and library, will give people access to career paths and skills to help them thrive in their own professional journeys using Disney’s world-class storytelling, technology and talent.
Onyx Collective is a new content brand that was featured at the 2021 Disney upfront. It will live primarily at Hulu. It will kick off with two projects:
- Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)—the winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival – (July 2 – streaming and theaters)
- The 1619 Project, based on Nikole Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Magazine special issue – (2022 – Hulu)
ESPN is focusing on two pillars for programming: exclusive rights and great storytelling.
ESPN Films announced the multi-part documentary series The Captain, featuring Derek Jeter, coming in 2022
ESPN announced the Fifty/50 initiative, which will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the June 23, 1972, passing of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding, which gave women the equal opportunity to play.
ESPN+ announced projects including:
- Quest for the Stanley Cup, a seven-part, behind-the-scenes docuseries (debuting June 4)
- an expansion of Peyton’s Places
- Abby’s Places with Abby Wambach (coming July 7)
- Bettor Days with Mike Greenberg season 2 (coming in August)
- Man in the Arena: Tom Brady, a groundbreaking new series (coming in November)
Wrapping up the upfront
“Our company was founded nearly 100 years ago on the belief that we should continually evolve, grow and reinvent ourselves. Since then, we have been at the vanguard of creating moments that matter for our fans,” Kareem Daniel, chairman, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, said as the event came to a close. “We strive to be visionary in our approach—taking smart, bold risks and making strategic investments. This thinking allows our company to continue to succeed in this ever-changing media landscape.
“And, as we look toward the next 100, the future of The Walt Disney Company shines bright.”
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