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Cynopsis Media Presents: The Digital Content NewFronts: Were they “New” Enough?
05.07.13

by Sahil Patel

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) kicked off the 2013 Digital Content NewFronts with the following stat from a study it conducted with GfK: 45 million US adults are watching what it refers to as “original professional online video” (OPOV) at least once a month. What’s more, the study indicated that OPOV is hitting “strong benchmarks” when compared to traditional primetime television, including in the area of consumers’ receptivity to video ads.


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The first impulse is to immediately compare online video programming (which from here I will simply refer to as “online video”) to television. And why not? The IAB study already wades into that territory. Not to mention the fact that the NewFronts were established to form a marketplace around online video — an industry-wide effort to grab a slice of advertisers’ massive TV budgets.

All right, so let’s do it: According to the IAB, online video is reaching 19% of all US adults 18+. The reach of television, on the other hand, has been sitting pretty in the mid-to-late 90s for quite some time now. In other words, it’s no contest.

But does it make sense to compare a decades-old institution with one that even its most aggressive champions would describe as being about five-to-seven years old? Uh, not so much. Plus, we’re talking about entirely different mediums. Television has a well-known structure, in terms of content length, programming, and distribution. Online video really doesn’t. It can be any one of a thousand different things, some of which hews very close to television (see: House of Cards) and a lot that doesn’t.

Which is all to say, if you’re going to attempt an “apples-to-apples” comparison between television and online video, you’re playing a rigged game.

This is not new info, but it speaks to the biggest theme of this year’s NewFronts, last year’s NewFronts, and the future of online video generally: The struggle to define and measure itself against television — the “it” that the industry is still trying to figure out.

“Should the NewFronts behave like the Upfronts?” If you attended any of the events last week, you probably heard that question quite a few times. Your first impulse may be to say “yes”: if you want access to TV buyers and their budgets, you’re going to need to speak their language.

“The TV buyers simply want reach,” said Lori Schwartz, Tech Catalyst and Principal, World of Schwartz, who soldiered through pretty much every NewFront event last week. John McCarus, SVP/Brand Content at Digitas agrees. He recently told Cynopsis Digital that TV buyers attending the NewFronts very much want online video to behave the way broadcast video does.

“With the Upfronts, the buyers know what to expect,” adds Paul Kontonis, GM/Magnet Media Originals. “So mimicking that experience is a great way to introduce the timid TV buyer into the brave new and oh-so-scary world of online video, with its engaged audiences and advanced reporting.”


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But here’s the rub: online video doesn’t conduct itself like television, and the digital media buyers aren’t looking for the same things as their TV brethren.

“The opportunity around digital video has to do with direct interaction and engagement with the audience,” said McCarus. In addition, consumers are increasingly screen-agnostic, reminds Schwartz. And the digital media buyers, aware of these behaviors, have been evaluating video with these factors in mind. The challenge, as well as the opportunity, set before the NewFront presenters (and web video providers in general) is in trying to satisfy both buying agendas.

It boils down to something Arianna Huffington has now said multiple times about HuffPost Live: The network is about “participation, not presentation.” The 2013 NewFront presenters, if assessed by this standard, have work to do.

“There was a bit of denial among some of the digital content players in terms of acknowledging that they have this unique distinction of being ‘lean in’ platforms,” said Schwartz. “They have the ability to offer advertisers very specific content packages and ad solutions that drive down the marketing funnel.”

“You have to showcase the unique value proposition that digital platforms bring to the table when it comes to modern consumer behaviors and technographics,” said Schwartz. And this goes beyond just listing the solutions advertisers will be able to buy. “Show brands how their products and messages will be integrated into the show, program, or site/app. We’re moving beyond just pre-rolls, so demonstrate how you will be able to tell a brand’s story in a compelling way, and how you have the ability to play that out across multiple channels. Highlight how you will foster content discovery, so that you can ensure that both your program and the brand’s messages are seen by the right audience,” adds Schwartz.

In other words, if you’re hosting a NewFront, make it something new.


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YouTube Got It Right

Last year, YouTube unveiled its original channels lineup and trotted out some of the big name celebrities and media brands participating and creating programming for the initiative. Last year, YouTube held an Upfront.

Then came the rest of 2012. The company was taken to task for many things, including not knowing how to program to its audience, not providing enough support for the channels it was funding, and not doing enough to help brands buy channels/shows and find the audiences that they wanted to reach. Then YouTube stopped funding a majority of the first 100 original channels. Meanwhile, many of the YouTube “stars” and YouTube-based media companies were not only succeeding on the site, but were planning to move some of their content and operations off of YouTube in a bid to maximize their own ad partnerships.

We were delighted to see YouTube transform those hard knocks into the 2013 Brandcast, which was devoted to educating advertisers about YouTube’s audience (18 to 34 year olds) and the programmers that are successfully engaging with that audience. The company showcased content creators like Felicia Day, Lindsey Stirling, and Ryan Higa, all of whom spoke about how YouTube has helped them cultivate a loyal fan base. YouTube also highlighted some data to drive the point home that theirs is the best platform for connecting with the 18-34 demo (“Generation C,” as Nielsen defines it). YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network, the company said, citing Nielsen data. 66% of Gen C spend as much or more time watching online video than they do watching television, YouTube said.

Then it unveiled the ways it’s helping advertisers connect with audiences, including “media packages” that allow advertisers to buy programming based on different genres and types of content.

This year, YouTube held a NewFront.

YouTube Stars in the Spotlight

In the past year, we’ve seen some incredible investments in companies that are succeeding on YouTube, including Maker Studios, Fullscreen, Alloy Digital, and Machinima. What’s a common link between all of these digital media companies? They all in some way work with and represent “YouTube stars” — talented young men and women who have been building audiences long before YouTube decided to invest in premium original content creation. Which is why it was good to see these stars finally receive a much-deserved spotlight.

  • Blip committed a seed investment into one of YouTube’s top creators, Ray William Johnson. Johnson has amassed more than 8.5 million subscribers and nearly 2.28 billion views to date on YouTube. The deal will cover development and distribution of Johnson’s Runway Planet content across the Blip video network.
  • One of AOL‘s 15 new web series stars Justine Ezarik (known online as iJustine) as she explores the latest in wearable technology. Ezarik currently has more than 1.5 million subscribers and over 286.4 million video views on YouTube.
  • Smosh: The crown jewel of the Alloy Digital portfolio is Smosh, the comedic duo of Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla. The main Smosh YouTube channel has accumulated more than 9.6 million subscribers and over 2.3 billion views.


How Crackle Snapped & Popped

Crackle waved its digital flag proudly.

First was its product placement opportunity for its upcoming action series, Cleaners. In the first five minutes of the first episode of the show, Crackle is giving brands the opportunity to place their products. It’s impressive enough due to the fact that the first five minutes of the first episode of any show probably have the highest viewership numbers that show will ever get. But James Smith, SVP/Digital Media Sales at Sony Pictures Entertainment, described this product placement opportunity with storyboards of the scene on the screen behind him. It was a great way to show, and not just tell, what Crackle was offering.

The second thing is video discovery. With the wealth of content available online, how are these video providers going to ensure that the shows are put in front of the right audiences? Crackle has the solution with its “watch-list” tool, an editorialized package of Crackle originals, TV shows, and feature films all based around a certain theme. “It’s a simple way to remove the challenge of finding programming, and it also gives an advertiser a ‘user guide’ to do a buy with — I love that,” said Schwartz.

One-Stop Branding Solutions

While it wasn’t said explicitly, you could sense that was the thought behind AOL Be On and MSN StageDoor. The former is an end-to-end branded entertainment service, offering everything from content creation to syndication and measurement. AOL debuted a video produced for the Roma football club in Italy and Nike. StageDoor is a video hub for aggregated “brand-safe” content, featuring original and catalogued videos targeted to nine different audiences. Sponsorship opportunities include custom product placements and segment branding.


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TV’s Not The Enemy: Who’s Making it Work In Tandem with Online Video?

And by the way, television and online video can exist as incredibly complementary pieces. Several announcements during the NewFronts highlighted this.

  • HuffPost Live will arrive on AXS TV, a network backed by Mark Cuban, CBS, Ryan Seacrest Media, AEG, and CAA, on May 13. The interactive streaming news network will run for six hours a day, from 10am to 4pm.
  • AOL‘s deals with Nielsen and FreeWheel advance the notion that AOL On offers inventory comparable to TV. The deal with Nielsen is for its newly announced Digital Program Ratings product, which will allow networks to track views on their websites. Then there’s AOL’s partnership with FreeWheel, which, thanks to an integration with Mediaocean technology, will allow TV buyers to access and buy online video inventory through the same system they use to buy and manage TV campaigns. These deals are meant to bridge the gap between AOL On and television by simplifying the media buying and measuring process.
  • At Yahoo‘s NewFront, the company’s COO Enrique Castro made a point to establish that “TV plus Yahoo = A better media mix.” The company unveiled a bunch of partnerships that drove the point home, including the deal with NBC Entertainment and Broadway Video to become the exclusive US home to all Saturday Night Live archival content, and a similar agreement with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

In the final analysis, there’s been great progress and everyone should feel good about it. Onward and upward are the key words now: we all need to reimagine, reconfigure, and regroup – and charge carefully ahead.

Later – Sahil
Sahil Patel, Editor for Cynopsis Digital
05.07.13

Roberta Caploe: Editorial Director
Denise O’Connor: Group Publisher, Cynopsis Media
Diane K Schwartz: Senior Vice President, Media Communications Group

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