Big Names, Bold Claims at Digitas NewFront

Confab showcases projects from Tom Hanks, Anthony Zuiker, Microsoft Kinect

Rashida Jones was worried that becoming active on Twitter might make her seem like she was “on caffeine and cocaine.” Meanwhile, CSI creator Anthony Zuicker definitely appeared to be—at least on lots of caffiene.

Jones, Zuicker and Tom Hanks (via satellite) were some of the boldface names turning up at Digitas’ fifth annual Newfront in New York. That show has become the centerpiece of a 10-day series of events dubbed the Digital Content Newfronts, which so far have featured upfrontish presentations from Hulu, Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo. Unlike last year, none of the celebrity NewFront attendees outwardly begged for marketers to support their projects. Instead, this year the focus was on the quality of the content flowing online, and the confidence that Web video is poised to change the media business at large.

Here are some of the highlights:

• A charged up Zuiker presented a clip for Cybergedon, a computer-virus-gone-bad movie set to stream on Yahoo across the globe starting this September in 10-minute weekly chunks. The movie, tagged “This is the way the world ends … there is no esc,” is being sponsored by Norton Antivirus.

• Zuiker showed some slick images of his “diginovel,” an interactive full-length novel designed for tablets that combines elements of traditional books, graphic novels and touch screen games. He also gushed about Black Box TV, his new YouTube project featuring self-described “Hitchcockian” shorts. “I’m sick of the suits and the mularky,” he said of the pleasure of working outside the network TV world’s confines. “YouTube is an artist’s forum.”

• Speaking of YouTube, in spite of high-profile projects like Zuiker’s channel, YouTube isn’t aiming for mass hits. According to Jamie Byrne, YouTube’s global head of content strategy, the company is going for “mostly niche, small, underserved audiences.” For example, “we’re making a big bet on the Latino space,” Byrne said.

• While YouTube may not be swinging for the fences, Yahoo is. The company showed clips of the Tom Hanks collaboration Electric City, a 90-minute animated show which will be carved up into Webisodes on Yahoo later this year. “We’re looking for the first digital blockbuster,” said Yahoo video head Erin McPherson. “We’re looking for that Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer of the Web."

• Regarding the criticism leveled at DCNF that a lack of digital ad scarcity makes them irrelevant, McPherson disagreed. “We’re not bound by time or space,” she said. “But scarcity is created by creating something big … a unique content experience.”

• One show featured at the event stood out for being unlike traditional TV. Rob Bennett, gm, executive producer, MSN, showed footage from Kid’s Kitchen, which incorporates video and gesture-driven functionality from Xbox Kinect. Kids watching the show can choose ingredients, and then virutally prepare dishes (like chopping tomatoes on screen using hand gestures) all while watching clips of celebrity chefs like Giada De Laurentiis prepping actual recipes.

• Bravo’s development head and on-air host Andy Cohen, along with Mashable founder Pete Cashmore and Vanity Fair senior writer Krista Smith, led an intervention, trying to persuade Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) to join Twitter. At first hesitant, for fear of her ego going wild or mean fan attacks, Jones eventually gave in. By the end of her session Jones had over 100 followers. "Oh snap, I just joined Twitter! Got convinced by my friends here at #NewFront,” Jones tweeted.

By 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jones had over 20,000 followers. Oh Snap is right.