No longer a sideshow to the glitzy, glad-handing TV UpFronts, the Digital Content NewFronts have come into their own. A digital offshoot of traditional television’s annual ad sales event, the NewFronts have steadily grown since they launched five years ago. This year’s event is poised to grab more headlines than ever before, with 37 participants, including 12 new ones. Here’s our guide to what everyone will be talking about.
We’re in a distributed world…
Hot digital media properties like BuzzFeed no longer obsess over drawing giant audiences to their websites. They’ve decided to meet viewers wherever they are, from Snapchat, Facebook, Vine and YouTube to Apple TV, Comcast’s “YouTube killer” Watchable, Spotify’s new video feature and whatever comes next.
That strategy requires customizing and creating unique content for each platform, which soaks up resources and time. But the investment has been paying off. The key, you’ll hear media execs say, is choosing which platforms make sense for their target audiences and focusing on creating specific content with the platform and audience in mind, rather than blasting the same piece of content everywhere.
For example, on Facebook, videos begin to play automatically with the sound turned off. BuzzFeed’s food-focused Tasty and Proper Tasty channels take advantage of that feature by posting how-to cooking videos with subtitles. In other words, they work with the sound off. That’s made Tasty and Proper Tasty two of the fastest growing channels on Facebook.
…And that’s bad news for ad-supported video hubs
While media brands have seen success exporting unique content across social platforms and subscription-supported video providers such as Netflix, Hulu and even Amazon Prime Video have managed to acquire big audiences, legacy digital media companies making and aggregating ad-supported short-form content haven’t found the same success.
In the last year, Yahoo has killed Yahoo Screen, while Condé Nast’s The Scene and Time Inc.’s The Cut have had a slow start. The idea of a homegrown video hub is appealing when the other option—distributed content on social media platforms—means Facebook and YouTube will take a cut of your ad sales. But it’s becoming clear that big audiences won’t seek out destination video content unless they’re already paying for it or the quality is super-premium, a model that has not worked yet for ad-supported short form.
Economic uncertainty hasn’t hurt digital properties (yet)
A tougher environment for capital raises, tech IPOs, volatile stock market and asset prices as well as global economic uncertainty in recent months has conjured plenty of doom-and-gloom predictions for 2016. The digital media world faces funding and burn headwinds.
But so far, word is that digital publishers are still reporting robust sales pipelines and strong demand this year. Brands are especially drawn to publishers and content that not only offers the right mix of medium and message across native advertising, programmatic, video, mobile and social, but also offers passion-point content that delivers high engagement. For example, The Enthusiast Network has built a high-reach network for advertisers that marries high-engagement content with a fusion of targeting methods.
The tension in TV-land is palpable
Last year’s NewFronts grabbed enough headlines, attention and ad dollars that—for the first time ever—execs at the UpFronts seemed defensive.
Recall Donna Speciale of Turner Broadcasting calling out the “bot traffic, viewability issues and Wild West metrics” of the digital players; or Linda Yaccarino of NBCUniversal questioning the quality of content on Facebook and YouTube. Even a celebrity host got in a dig about viewability.
This year they’re more likely to play nice. After all, since those comments, NBCUniversal has launched comedy OTT network Seeso and invested in both BuzzFeed and Vox Media. Likewise, many of the other broadcast and cable networks have realized the importance of building out their own digital video strategies. Or at the very least, their shareholders have: The seven biggest entertainment conglomerates lost around $60 billion in market value last year on investor concerns over cord cutting.
Forget bots—ad blocking hurts video, too
Video ads are more lucrative than display ads, which makes the debate over which kinds of video ads the ad blocking community will allow particularly heated. The ad-blocking problem has only gotten worse for publishers since Apple allowed ad-blocking apps into its App Store last year, and this topic is top-of-mind for the entire industry. Expect debates over autoplay and pre-roll formats, with many publishers presenting native video ads as a solution.
The blending of TV and video happens everywhere but here
Plenty of NewFronts hoppers will be asking themselves why the event is still separate from the UpFronts. Sure, there are plenty of historical and logistical reasons. But consider this: YouTube stars now have their own cable TV shows, Vice Media just launched its own cable network and the TV networks are distributing their content on just about every “over-the-top” distributor there is. Meanwhile, most of the traditional media conglomerates have invested in or acquired NewFronts companies, and TV crossovers like Time Warner Cable and Bloomberg Media are even presenting at the NewFronts.
The line between TV and digital video has blurred to the point where attendees are likely to suggest that the NewFronts and the UpFronts might be better off in combination, rather than in competition, with each other. Maybe next year.