Special Report: CYNOPSIS MEDIA PRESENTS: NewFronts Heads Into Third Year With Much Learning Under Its Belt

SPECIAL REPORT: CYNOPSIS MEDIA PRESENTS: NewFronts Heads Into Third Year With Much Learning Under Its Belt

By Mark J. Miller

The NewFronts, digital video’s premier annual event, will reach its three-year milestone when it kicks off on April 28, and this year’s edition is indeed more focused than in years past, while reaping the benefits of its name becoming a more central part of the ad-world vernacular.

"Digital video is no longer an afterthought," Aaron Gallagher, SVP, Digital Sales, at Scripps Networks Interactive told Cynopsis. "It’s a key priority for many companies, including ours."


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After last year’s gathering, the first to be run by IAB, a so-called "Gang of Eight" made up of bigwig agency media buyers let the IAB know that it wasn’t happy with the way things had gone, sending an open letter that asked for content creators to put more effort and dollars behind promoting the content as well as to make it easier to purchase and measure.

IAB said it wanted to push the envelope even further than the Eight had suggested. Ben Winkler, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Innovation Officer at OMD, (agency clients include Pepsi, McDonald’s, Visa, and Nissan), said that he had spoken to representatives for this year’s presenters and previewed some of the new content and felt confident that a number of issues had been addressed. "I am cautiously optimistic," he told Cynopsis. "There’s reason to believe this year will be much stronger. For one, it appears that companies finally realize that they need to promote their shows with real money beyond the NewFronts presentation, just like a ‘real’ network would do."

IAB did see some successes from last year’s event. A post-NewFronts survey found that three in four buy-side attendees picked up a new opportunity and one in three planned to increase cross-platform buys. "This is meaningful and shows overarching success coming out of the events last year," said Julie Van Ullen, IAB’s VP of Member Services. Feedback also led to the institution of shorter event times and the creation of a NewFronts app scheduled to launch just before the event to help attendees plan and navigate this year’s presentations, which will take place all over New York City. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/digital-content-newfronts/id852552331?mt=8

Clearly, digital video has continued to become more prevalent in our culture. "The average time spent with digital media per day has surpassed TV viewing for the first time," Eric Berger, GM of Crackle and Executive Vice President of Digital Networks at Sony Pictures Television, told Cynopsis. "Additionally, streaming video on a connected device is now the second most popular way of viewing primetime TV programming behind watching traditional live television, based on a study we did with Frank N. Magid Associates. Digital TV consumption is now the norm in the household."

That may be true, but digital video still is fighting against the broadcast giants in many eyes. Shelby Saville, EVP, Digital at media-buying firm Spark, which has such clients as Hanes and Ace Hardware, told Cynopsis she would like to see not just quality content at the NewFronts but a sense of how companies plan to build audience. "It’s one thing to create great video content," she said. "It is another to get an audience that can rival television."

Van Ullen seems to think more and more advertisers will see the light of digital’s audience opportunities. "The heightened ability to target and engage audiences watching video on digital devices presents a massive opportunity to advertisers," she said. "The hope is that as we continue to see more and more innovative digital video content and accompanying effective ad products, that marketers will continue to invest more in this explosive opportunity."

Last year, five thousand people attended the NewFronts, up from the 1,000 who streamed through the doors in 2012. More are expected this year. Also, in 2013, there were only two print-centric publishers – Conde Nast and the Wall Street Journal – at the NewFronts. This year adds Time Inc. and National Geographic to the list. In fact, there’s a lot more room for more presenters this year since IAB expanded the NewFronts to two weeks and sliced presentation times from three hours to two.

"We received a tremendous amount of interest from the original digital video creation community to participate this year," said Van Ullen. "Additionally, it was important to the IAB and the NewFronts Founding Partners that we be inclusive of smaller and innovative content producers who didn’t make it into the week last year." That has opened the door to such creators as Maker Studios, PopSugar, Vice Media, Glam Media, BuzzFeed, and others.

While no brands would divulge what exactly they plan to unveil at the NewFronts, plenty offered up teasers. Gabriel Lewis,vice president of AOL Studios & AOL On Originals, told Cynopsis that his company will unveil a "new slate of shows that will reinforce our Authentic Voices, Remarkable Stories tagline" as well as announce returning shows and "innovative partnerships." Yahoo plans to spotlight its "new content, products, and insights for brand advertisers who are looking to engage a large, targeted audience."

Founding member Google will focus its event on Google Preferred, which gives brands exclusive access to their audience’s favorite content on YouTube. Preferred will allow clients to reserve the top 5 percent of YouTube content across 14 vertical lineups, such as Beauty & Fashion, Comedy, Food, Music, and Sports. The company has also seen a lot of success with brands creating content on YouTube. Last year, three of the top 10 trending videos on the site were ads from Volvo, Evian, and the movie Carrie. It hopes to continue that trend by offering content creation consulting services.

The Wall Street Journal is looking to reinforce that it’s a multiplatform brand and show advertisers that it has "a range of products (it) can deploy on their behalf," according to Trevor Fellows, Head of Global Media Sales at the Journal. "We have journalists who can get in front of a story, to drive compelling video early," Fellows told Cynopsis. "Ours is an integrated newsroom. When complicated stories come up, [such as the disappearance of the Malaysian plane], we have the team structure that can cover these events." He also noted that the Journal wants the video to augment the user experience and the company won’t resort to having video automatically play when users load a page. "Video shouldn’t be crammed down the users’ throat," he said. "It needs to work best when the user thinks ‘I want to watch that.’"

The New York Times would also like to be perceived as more than a newspaper company and has doubled the size of its video team in the last year. "The Times is part of our national culture, a place to go to find the most interesting topics that are being talked about every day," said Rebecca Howard, General Manager, Video, at the Times. "Times Video proves that great journalism pulls you in and that we are in a new chapter that is ‘Beyond Words,’ which is what we’re calling our event." The organization will unveil new programming, a video hub, a custom content studio that is aimed at creating video series for advertisers, and fresh sponsorship opportunities.


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Sony’s Crackle joined the NewFronts last year, so in addition to presenting new programming this year, it will devote some of its presentation to sharing studies of how it delivered against its promises of a year ago. Meanwhile, Maker Studios will make its NewFronts debut with "new programming, new advertising tools, comprehensive research, and deeper partnerships," according to Jason Krebs, Maker Head of Sales. Another first-timer, BuzzFeed, plans to "share [its] approach and how [it] works with brands," according to Jonathan Perelman, GM of Video and VP of Agency Strategy at BuzzFeed, which launched its video product about a year ago. "We’ve grown video a great deal and we’re going to share our approach and how we work with brands," he added.

PBS Digital Studios had a banner year last year, winning five Webby awards and being named Best Branded YouTube Channel by Mashable, and is hoping to build on that with more topic-centric communities on YouTube. The hope is to further engage an already passionate one-million-strong subscriber base. "It’s smart programming that deeply engages audiences, who in turn give thoughtful responses and spark meaningful conversations," Matt Graham, Senior Director, PBS Digital Studios, told Cynopsis.

Scripps Networks Interactive will present content that complements its on-air programming as well as original video content and branded entertainment it has created with advertisers. "We’ll also highlight the work we’ve been producing through ulive.com, our lifestyle video site and distribution network, in categories like parenting, wellness, and beauty," said Gallagher. SNI has created digital video extensions around such popular shows as Brother vs. Brother and House Hunters, and has also developed digital originals such as its Weekday Crafternoon series on HGTV.com. "Ultimately, we hope our marketing partners will think about us a little bit differently when they walk away from our presentation and that they’ll come back in the following weeks and challenge us to come up with some smart marketing solutions for them," Gallagher said.

DigitasLBi, another of the NewFronts’ founders, is the sole media buyer presenting. According to John McCarus, SVP of Social Content for the company, it will help buyers think through all of the different strategies, tools, and opportunities. It also aims to provoke. "We also need to stop and take a look at ourselves as buyers, planners, and brands-and get real about what’s in the way," McCarus said. "DigitasLBi is putting a collection of voices onstage to challenge the audience; to provoke courage, fearlessness, and new thinking as a route to market ignition in content investments. It’s time to turn the lens on ourselves to make this market."

"I think a big theme that will emerge this year is the need for successful media brands to excel in multiple disciplines, from content to technology to publishing," said AOL’s Lewis. "It will be interesting to watch new lines being drawn where it comes to content distribution, new and developing mobile and OTT models, and show formats."

Whatever lines are drawn, DigitasLBi’s McCarus is ready to get things started: "The digital video market is fully formed, measurable, and easier to buy than ever," he said. "The evolution is rapid. Let’s not sit on the sidelines. We want our clients to be first."

For Winkler, he’s looking for one simple thing: "I want a credible alternative to traditional video with an incentive to act," he said.

Let the NewFronts begin.

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