Rita Ferro, Disney’s President of Global Advertising, on the Company’s Upfront and the Differentiator of Storytelling

With Upfront season in full swing, The Walt Disney Company is excited to roll out its annual star-studded Upfront presentation — which takes place on Tuesday, May 14 at the North Javits Center in New York City.

This year’s event will showcase everything from Jimmy Kimmel’s return to the Disney Upfront stage following his successful stint as Oscar host, to a trove of announcements around some of Disney’s most popular series and franchises, in addition to new content and verticals.

The presentation is also an opportunity for Disney to highlight key priorities for its business, including its global streaming position, its leadership in data and technology innovation, its commitment to inclusion and the most scale and impact across live, sports, and entertainment.

To find out more about what’s in store, we spoke with Rita Ferro — Disney’s President of Global Advertising — who explained what helps The Walt Disney Company lead the way forward in advertising.

As we approach the Disney Upfront, what makes Disney different in terms of the value to advertisers compared to other media companies?

We have the best storytelling and brands in the world when it comes to entertainment and sports. And we have really invested, over the last decade, in technology that differentiates us from all of our traditional competitors. So, when I think across the marketplace, no one has the advertising technology and the data stack that we have built over the course of that period.

We can also compete with any of the new technology platforms, and what sets us apart across all of those is truly our scale. The ability to have the amount of content that we have across sports, which is a hugely popular marketplace right now in terms of advertisers and where they’re spending their dollars, is also a differentiator.

To have scale there and be able to make sure that every advertiser who wants to stay within the Disney platform can move those dollars and maximize their impact across our portfolio of brands and audiences is really important.

The week of Upfront is usually full of announcements. What can you tell us about this year’s showcase?

I don’t want to give too much away, but that stage is going to be very impactful in terms of the level and quality of talent across it. That’s talent both from our television studios and our theatrical studios, but also from sports.

The presentation will really be a homage to the quality and storytelling that Disney is known for that differentiates us. It will also remind clients of the investments we’ve made in technology that really drive the outcomes in performance they are looking for.

We have the best storytelling in the world, coupled with the innovative technology platforms that are leading the marketplace forward through our solutions-driven data insights.

Some technology companies are great at technology, some are great at technology and innovation, and some are great at storytelling. At Disney, we’re great at all three – and that intersection is where both magic and winning happens.

Rita Ferro speaking at the annual Tech and Data Showcase at CES in Las Vegas.

What are the biggest focuses for Disney in terms of its advertising business?

We’re focused on driving growth and scale around the pillars that [Disney CEO Bob Iger] has laid out for us.

There also continues to be a focus on sports growth and we have so many new rights this year as we head into the market. It’s the first year of our SEC deal, we have expanded NCAA rights, expanded college football rights. There’s more NFL and we’re excited about the growth of NBA and our NHL business, which is very strong. And we cannot forget the importance of women’s sports and what that is contributing to our overall business on the sports side.

When you look across our ecosystem, we know that our linear shows are doing tremendously well on our streaming platforms, but with a different audience. That’s incremental reach, and we’ve done a great job of making sure we have all the measurement tools to be able to deliver and demonstrate that reach as marketers are being much more thoughtful about how they’re spending their dollars.

With Disney+, Hulu, ESPN, ABC, and many other networks, there’s a ton of points of connection for advertisers to reach consumers. Why is that important?

We talked about incremental reach, and so marketers want to know that when they’re buying their audience segment, that they’re reaching that audience across the full portfolio of both linear and streaming at scale.

When you look at the marketplace today, marketers are spending more dollars, but with fewer, more strategic players… so what’s coming back to Disney is a deeper relationship with fewer brands that really drive an association. We’re seeing that be evident in the sports business right now.

Looking at our College GameDay sponsors, they tour all of our College GameDay locations. They have branding on the side; it’s integrated and becomes synonymous with the show. Our brands also lend themselves to that, such as the integrations with The Bear that we’ve done with some major marketers who are now in season three recreating those integrations that have been so powerful from day one.

What does this year’s Upfront presentation tell us about what Disney Advertising’s business will look like going forward?

We’re doubling down on all of our priorities we shared at the Tech & Data showcase, Disney is a technology company as much as it’s a storytelling company. And what you’re going to see and feel on May 14 is the importance of creativity as a differentiator and unifier.

The storytelling that comes from this company is incomparable in the marketplace. It’s very hard to buy or rent that. You build those brands over years of consistent storytelling, of connections to consumers, and we want to make sure that message is clear throughout the presentation.

At the end of the day, quality content is a differentiator in an experience and how it makes the consumer feel — and making you feel drives outcomes.