Last year, Crackle made a bold move to distinguish itself from other streaming players when it took itself out of the NewFronts in an attempt to position itself as more of a new-age TV network.
So what about Hulu, another ad-supported streaming service that likens itself to a TV network? Don't bet on it, says the company's head of sales Peter Naylor. Coming off a breakout year in which it invested heavily in content—originals from Amy Poehler, Jason Reitman and Mindy Kaling, for instance, and acquiring the entire Seinfeld catalog—Hulu wants to make sure it continues that momentum, Naylor said. And the NewFronts, of which Hulu is a co-founder, remains the best place to get the attention of advertisers.
"I'm leveraging the NewFronts to make sure our message is seen by as many people as possible," said Naylor.
With numerous cable networks staggering their upfront presentations from the end of February until the broadcast networks' week in mid-May, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle, and being one of the headliners of a special, two-week marketplace, increases Hulu's visibility.
"If I went two weeks earlier [like Crackle did in 2015], you'd probably get a ton of New Yorkers," Naylor said, "but probably wouldn't get people from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Atlanta."
Hulu's is usually the largest and best-attended presentation of the NewFronts. "It felt the most professional," said Jordan Bitterman, Mindshare North America's chief strategy officer, of last year's presentation. "There were smart alignments that they created—they had a very strong point of view, and they talked to their scale and ubiquity."
Magna Global's U.S. president, David Cohen, a critic of the NewFronts, said Hulu is among the only presentations he pays attention to. "We do a lot of business with Hulu—interested to see what they're going to be bringing," he said.
Naylor would rather see Hulu continue to be a big fish in a small pond—it usually gets a prime spot on the NewFronts schedule—instead of going it alone and trying to fight with cable networks for attention. As usual, Hulu will be sandwiched with other major digital players—BuzzFeed, Yahoo, AOL, YouTube and Vice—during the first week. "If we're part of [that] week, you've got a lot of customers coming into town," Naylor said.
The NewFronts has seen tremendous growth heading into its fifth year, expanding from just a handful of digital companies to nearly 40 presenters, and Naylor understands Hulu's role in fostering that growth. "If anybody is going to fly into town for these events," he said, "I would like to believe that we're helping to pull them in."