What You Missed From the First Day of NewFronts West

Rainn Wilson’s bassoon performance and other highlights

Rainn Wilson performs with LaLa Brass at NewFronts West.
Rainn Wilson, playing the bassoon, helped kick off NewFronts West by performing 'Happy' onstage with LaLa Brass. IAB
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

What does NewFronts West offer that its New York counterpart doesn’t? A bassoon performance from Rainn Wilson, for starters.

The Office actor and co-founder of the purpose-driven publisher SoulPancake—who had offered a moment of zen, in the form of a guided meditation, at last fall’s inaugural NewFronts West event—brought the noise this time around. He introduced a dozen-piece marching band early in the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s two-day event, which kicked off Wednesday at L.A.’s NeueHouse Hollywood.

“I’m not going to let you get out of here without unleashing a joy bomb—my gift to you,” said Wilson, who broke out his own musical instrument to join LaLa Brass’ version of “Happy,” with the on-stage enthusiasm infectious enough to get attendees to put down their coffee and get out of their seats.

Shortly before the performance, Wilson told the several hundred assembled media, ad agency and marketing execs that consumers don’t care about the slickness of a video or the budget of a campaign. They value brands that take a stand, which not coincidentally is the theme and through-line of the IAB’s gathering.

“The people we’re trying to sell stuff to aren’t complete idiots,” Wilson said, meaning they don’t fall for greenwashing or other inauthentic tactics. “Consumers want to do business with companies that stand for something big. … It’s time for us to stop pretending to be woke and actually wake the hell up.”

The IAB’s NewFronts West, in its second year and continuing Thursday, is the West Coast counterpart to the annual New York NewFronts held in late April and early May. Its organizers touted the growth of ad spending on digital video, nearing $30 billion this year, as BBC News, Ellen Digital Network, Junkin Media and other publishers rolled out upcoming content slates.

Those sessions were interspersed with thought-leader chats like Girlgaze’s Amanda de Cadenet with Levi’s marketing chief Jen Sey on creativity and female representation.

Stunt-loving SoulPancake didn’t skimp on flash or substance, announcing a co-production deal with PBS for The Migrant Kitchen, an Emmy-winning series about the multicultural Los Angeles food scene; a new podcast on Luminary called Metaphysical Milkshake with Wilson and Reza Aslan; and a Seventh Generation partnership to promote an online platform that gives domestic workers access to benefits.

The alliance will create content that highlights the human rights issues, as shown in SoulPancake parent company Participant Media’s Oscar-winning film, Roma.

The publisher with uplift and positivity in its mission statement also will debut an original program with Funny or Die called Laughing Matters. Celebrities like Sarah Silverman, Wayne Brady, Rachel Bloom and Anna Akana will talk with Wilson on the docu-style series about the connection between comedy and depression. It premieres on Oct. 10 in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Day.

Among SoulPancake’s other news: It’s reviving Kid President with a new series called Kid Congress in the run-up to the 2020 election. Also, the media platform now has full control of its inventory on YouTube, becoming one of the few independent channels to have that distinction for its brand-safe, family-friendly entertainment.

Though it was a “long and cumbersome” process to get there, according to CEO Shabnam Mogharabi, it will give advertisers “a more centralized way to engage with us,” fanning out over social integrations, custom content and other collaborations.

Wednesday’s NewFronts West keynote session brought together actor-author Jamie Lee Curtis and Sinead Burke, a Ted talk alum, writer and advocate who hosts the As Me with Sinead podcast.

The conversations that Burke has with her varied guests fill a universal need that people have “to be seen and heard and appreciated,” said Curtis, who noted she was “floored at the depth of her distillation of my professional life.”

Good podcasters are “willing to be vulnerable,” Burke said, and her goal with her show is to provoke listeners and guests to think about issues they never had before.

“I’m deeply nosy as a human being,” Burke said. “I want to give people the space to talk about things they care about.”

Aside from a few more musical acts, and a Junkin Media-sponsored “puppy-powered working space”—with real puppies—presenters trotted out their wares for potential brand deals and shared industry research. Among NewFronts West’s other Day 1 highlights:

BBC News released results of its 50:50 Project that strives for gender balance “in what audiences see, hear and read” across the company’s outlets. During an initial 12-month study of the ongoing program, 100% of the BBC World News teams reached male-female parity in public-facing content, according to journalist Sophie Long.

Twenty external partners and 500 BBC teams are now part of the effort. Next up, she said, is balancing the makeup of BBC’s workforce.

Ellen Digital Network, which has logged 1 billion views and has 276 million followers for its original programming, announced two series in development. Ladyparts With Dr. Sherry Ross will cover sex, health, relationships and more, and Not Great With Lauren Pomerantz will follow more of the Ellen writer’s misadventures.

Fearless, starring supermodel and activist Ashley Graham—with 45 million views so far for the self-confidence boosting show—will get a second season. Total Wireless, an underdog in the category that saw increases in consumer engagement and share of voice from its first foray into custom content, will return as sponsor.

Live X Live, a music-centric platform, gave sneak peeks at the 20 projects it is rolling out in the next year, including Perry Farrell’s Scenemakers (a mix of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways), The Squad Festival Edition (Entourage meets Almost Famous), Timeless Divide, a docu-style show that pairs different generations of musicians in the same genre, and The Live Music Awards, created with MTV’s VMA producers.

In keeping with the conference’s “take a stand” theme, the publisher also unveiled Live Cause, which will allow fans to donate to artists’ causes like Stand Up To Cancer.

Fuse Media, which just named Jon Scarlett as head of its content studio, teased its new originals, including the celebrity-centric Method To My Morning, Dial-A-Rapper (“real advice to real people”), Doll House (designers making mini fashion), and Wreckreation, where stars answer questions about the stresses of life and, armed with a Louisville Slugger, get 10 minutes in a glass-filled room for some smash therapy.

NewFronts West continues Thursday with sessions from Vevo, Tubular, Facebook and Unity.

@TLStanleyLA terry.stanley@adweek.com T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.