Ad agencies, marketers and the media are awash with buzz about the competition between the Digital Content NewFronts and the subsequent broadcast network upfront marketplace.
But all the gossip and prognostication miss an essential fact: Digital video is not television. The NewFronts is not an assault on this classic medium. Rather, digital video represents a culmination of television and the start of a post-television world. Granted, it’s clear how this misunderstanding came to be. There’s little precedence for the unfolding of digital video—a medium that can appear so similar to existing, predominant media yet is such a dramatic evolution from its apparent kin.
Already in its young life, digital video can do everything that television can—it can easily deliver big brand, direct response and local advertising, just like the TV set in your den has done for so many decades. Its producers and networks can already create entertaining and culturally relevant programming that assembles valuable audiences. Premium video content is truly premium by the highest measure: cultural cachet. In 2013, Netflix proved its chops as an original content producer when it won an Emmy Award for Best Director for House of Cards.
To many, the trajectory of digital video may appear to mirror that of cable. In the early days of cable, naysayers questioned its reach and the value of its niche audiences, just as they do digital video today. Cable networks once relied on repurposing existing content, but as the competition for inventory heated up, cable networks began producing their own programming, similar to digital video.
Since the advent of the modern cable era in 1980, hundreds of cable networks have cropped up without decimating broadcast television’s big networks. Rather, this multiplicity provided marketers with a trove of new opportunities to connect with their target consumers. Already this is the case with digital video, but at an even greater scale than cable has provided. Digital video can provide economically viable reach to tiny niche markets—and it can do it on a global scale. The outstandingly, immeasurably broad, rich and varied digital video landscape represents not a competing market, but a broadened one for marketers.
Consider what it really means that consumers and brands can have an interactive, multidirectional, even personalized relationship with programming content that allows them to figuratively reach through the screen to extract information and entertainment of value to them. And then consider that they can do it all through the same screen in their living room, or across different screens in their living room and/or office and/or briefcase and/or pocket.
Every TV set manufactured today now comes Internet-ready. Over the next few years, with the proliferation of 4G mobile networks and the progression of compression technologies, the substantial majority of mobile devices will be capable of playing high-quality video anywhere. These advances will drastically change the way sight, sound and motion are consumed, and it equally changes the ways marketers will be able to build relationships with their audiences.
Today, we’re only in the process of inventing and imagining the marketing uses of digital video. Time and usage will determine which ones it’s best for.
Measuring the prospects of digital video and assigning a role to the NewFronts through a long list of television comparisons is interesting, but short-sighted. Digital video is and will be so much more. It’s the culmination of television, the most advanced state of television possible, and everything that networks and marketers are testing out hints at what lies beyond.
The purpose of the NewFronts isn’t just to show off intriguing new programming. It is marketers’ once-a-year chance to get a first look at the front edge of this tremendous transformation.
Randall Rothenberg (@r2rothenberg) is president and CEO of the IAB.
Illustration: Giacomo Bagnara