Cynopsis Backstage at the Upfronts – 05/01/15: DigitasLBi, Vevo, A+E Networks



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BEHIND THE SCENES at the Upfronts
The People! The Parties! The Buzz!a

Backstage at the NewFronts


As one of the founding NewFront members and the only non-publisher in the 33 events that made up this year’s NewFront market, DigitasLBi put on a program to provide marketers with some context. Attendees walked into The Refectory at the High Line Hotel to a medieval setting, where the Late Show Gospel Choir (usually on David Letterman’s show) filled the room with song. The theme revolved around a recent study DigitasLBi conducted in partnership with the IAB called Content Revelations. The research supplement is based on advertiser perceptions, and can be found here.

Scott Donaton, DigitasLBi North America Chief Content Officer, reflected on NewFronts’ evolution. “We had a vision of what it would become, and we have reached our destination. We’re proud of our role in the creation of this marketplace.” With video-projected flames lit up behind him, Donaton introduced the “prophets” to speak during the event: Tom Freston, Principal of Firefly3 and former CEO of Viacom; Kathleen Grace, Chief Creative Officer of New Form Digital; Judy McGrath, Founder and President of Astronauts Wanted and former MTV veteran; Bob Pittman, Chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia and co-founder of MTV; Ben Rubin, Co-Founder and CEO of Life on Air, which created Meerkat; and Shane Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of Vice.

After a video from Funny or Die that portrayed Jesus as the greatest marketer in the world, the event commenced.

Revelation 1:
Shane Smith
said, “The dilemma for the NewFronts is that there’s a dissatisfaction with how advertising works online. Everyone first fell in love with native advertising. It works, but it wasn’t the best we could do. So what we pioneered years ago with the Intel ‘Creators Project’ is what is now considered a brand partnership, and is now its own vertical and media entity. As we went into the branded space, we found we could do more in TV and mobile. We’ll continue in that direction in the future.”

Revelation 2:
Tom Freston
, Bob Pittman and Judy McGrath talked about what they learned from starting MTV in the 1980s and cable networks in relation to the digital revolution. “Never listen to people who say that something won’t work,” McGrath said. “What we did in the 1980s was just to listen to the consumer. What the consumer was in search of was control of their lives and their entertainment. That’s what happened during the cable phenomenon, and that’s what is happening now.”

Revelation 3:
Ben Rubin
hopped onstage wearing a bright yellow tee with the Meerkat logo. “The past decade was about sharing content, and the next decade will be about people participating in programming. We’re moving from a passive consumer to an active one. Right now, Twitch, Periscope and Meerkat are the only ones in this space. It’s about one-to-one consumption. Twitter is one-to-many.”



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VEVO returned to the NewFronts for the fourth consecutive year, keeping the program tight and the drinks flowing at Spring Studios in Tribeca. Attendees were ushered upstairs where they were transported into music videos sets from Meghan Trainor’s retro, pastel-laden All About That Bass to the streets of Harlem at a shoeshine stop from Bruno MarsUptown Funk. Guests sat on comfy couches to watch music videos on two massive screens above the stage; many bobbed their head to the beat as they munched on cheeseburgers, chicken enchiladas and spinach soufflé.

Highlights of the evening included performances from Tori Kelly, Halsey and Magic! In a post-performance surprise for Halsey, Vevo revealed that she would join the company’s emerging artist program, LIFT; it’s helped launch artists Sam Smith, Lorde and Rita Ora. Halsey came onstage to accept with tears and a look of disbelief.

The presentation was a whirlwind 45 minutes, and Jonathan Carson, Vevo’s Chief Revenue Officer, dished on the details for Cynopsis:

What’s the pitch?
“VEVO is focused on establishing the value of the music fan, and helping brands understand what makes them tick and how clients can most effectively activate in that environment. First, we have invested in what we believe is landmark consumer research, the VEVO Fan Report, which is an ongoing study of consumers and how they engage with music. We’re also announcing a whole new franchise, built from our social year end wrap-up program – The Year In VEVO – which originally exceeded all of our expectations, getting 200 million social votes in 2014. Another part will be a multi-day event, where we bring to life the winning music videos with installations in a live space so fans can shuttle through the stages. People will be beating up Taylor Swift’s car from Blank Space or swinging from a wrecking ball from Miley Cyrus’ video.”

What’s the biggest challenge for VEVO this year?
“We’re in a great position right now; last year we were celebrating six billion views per month – this year we’re at 11 billion. The original concept of VEVO five years ago was to help brands by organizing the music fan audience at scale. Our big challenge is [still] to help brands achieve that.”

Branded Content
“We have our core partners for the American Express stage, Honda stage and now our fifth year with McDonalds. But for the first time we’ll have a dedicated team focused on these brand programs, named VEVO Be.”

Meet The New CEO
Vevo introduced new CEO Erik Huggers. “This is quite literally my first day on the job,” Huggers said in the stage’s spotlight. The crowd chuckled. Huggers’ previous experience is comprised of stints at Verizon, Intel and the BBC. He stuck around for the rest of the evening to meet attendees and brands during the after- party held in the same room.



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A+E Networks

A+E’s Upfront last night at the Park Avenue Armory was a fest of “virtual brand experiences” touting each of its channels: A&E, History, H2, Lifetime, LMN, and FYI. Beneath an artificial starry sky, History Executive VP, National Ad Sales Peter Olsen welcomed a crowd full of women in great dresses and nude pumps and men in smart suits. President and CEO Nancy Dubuc recited A+E’s accomplishments, with 40 projects in various states of production. The Bring It On dancers had toes tapping during their onstage routine but it was Fall Out Boy’s performance during the reception that had guests crowding to the stage to take photos.

Programming highlights included:
Roots: Shown across History, A&E and Lifetime, Will Packer (Ride Along) joins as executive producer and original Roots cast member LeVar Burton is co-executive producer.
UnReal: Launching June 1, the Lifetime drama stars Shiri Appleby (Girls) and Constance Zimmer (House of Cards), taking a fictitious glimpse into the chaos surrounding the production of a dating competition program. Produced by A+E Studios.
What The Fung?!: Foodie comedians and brothers Andrew and David Fung travel across America in search of the best local spots to eat, for FYI.

Speaking of eating, what’s on the menu?
Two giant buffets with hand-carved beef and turkey. Shrimp cocktail, sushi, salads, veggie pizzas, pepperoni pizzas, pigs in blankets. Basically, anything you could ever want, ever.

Enter our World:
Each network – and some shows – had a small set that exemplified its identity: For War and Peace, a limited series airing on Lifetime, A&E, and History, there was a massive ice sculpture of a typical onion-domed Russian landscape. Actors playing lead characters Natasha Rostov and Andrei Bolkonsky (who will be portrayed by Lily James and James Norton) were posing for photos with guests. 

Quote of the Day:
“The show I’m most excited about is Food Porn,” UnReal’s Shiri Appleby told us. “I think that’s because my husband’s a chef.”

Coming up in Backstage at the NewFronts, hitting your mailbox at 6pm!

Vice, Machinima, and Fullscreen strut their stuff  and we’ll have all the news.

Keep Watching & Reading,
Lynn Leahey, Editor
Roberta Caploe: Associate Publisher @robertacaploe
Diane K Schwartz: Senior Vice President, Media Communications Group 

Cynopsis Ad Sales: Mike Farina | VP, Sales | 203-218-6480

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