Group Nine Media’s NewFront Was All About Obsession

And dogs. Lots of good dogs

Group Nine is obsessed with its audience, and hearing from folks presenting, the audience is obsessed with the company. Josh Sternberg

Last year, Group Nine Media joined the NewFront party. With the injection of $100 million from Discovery still fresh in its veins, the company wanted to formally introduce itself to the advertising community.

While some team members had Upfront or NewFront experience, it was CEO Ben Lerer’s first rodeo. It was also the first time all Group Nine brands—former Lerer Hippeau Venture sites NowThis, Thrillist and The Dodo, as well as Seeker (formerly known as Discovery Digital Network)—partnered on an initiative to figure out how to work together, from the management team to the grunts. Putting on an event this big is a grind, no matter how much experience one has.

Group Nine is now a year older, if not a year wiser.

“I think we have much exponentially clearer swim lanes now,” Lerer said in an interview with Adweek before Thursday’s event, which took place at Chelsea’s Skylight Modern, a big showy space right next to strip joint Score’s. “[T]he process is better [because] we operate much more cleanly and much more collaboratively as a team a year later. We’ve been through a bunch in a really good way now. And so we have a lot more trust amongst the senior leaders here and we know where capabilities sit within the organization.”

Lerer also believes that—unlike other NewFronts, which rarely see money flow from buyer to seller—Group Nine will “transact around our NewFront. I think there are concepts we will bring to market that brands will actually lean into and partner with us on out of the stuff we’re going to show, which traditionally has not happened at NewFronts.”

The TV Upfront, he said, is about “going in and locking down dollars” while the digital NewFront is “much more dog-and-pony show, where it’s hard to track dollars or business wins from it.”

The company has learned that talk is cheap. Instead of focusing on all the shows the company is rolling out in 2018 (NowThis alone is introducing 20 this year), Group Nine also talked about the shows that are currently in rotation. Think of it as a way to show advertisers what they might be missing now. It’s all about balancing past successes and promises of what’s to come.

For example, last year, the company made a sizzle reel for Dodo Heroes, a show about people who help animals in dire need. This year, the company showed footage from the show, which will premier in June on Animal Planet.

There was also a recurring theme throughout the extravaganza: obsession. Group Nine is obsessed with its audience, and hearing from folks presenting, the audience is obsessed with the company.

Group Nine thinks it has found an answer to the skeptic’s point-of-view of how media brands can not only thrive, but survive, built upon the pipes of another company (cough Facebook cough).

“We talk about that in the context of habitual viewing,” Lerer said. “Are you building a brand that people actually care about and that people actually have loyalty to? And the data that we have around the habitual viewing is pretty stunning.”

Group Nine claims that it reaches 140 million people every month, and of those, 40 million consume its content daily. Eschewing the glitz and glamour of celebrity presenters of other NewFronts, Group Nine celebrated its audience by calling some of those habitual viewers to the stage to introduce new shows. Astrophysicist Leland Melvin—a retired astronaut famed for his deservedly viral official NASA photo—introduced Seeker Universe, a show about all things outer space. Sergeant Craig Gossi and his very good dog Fred stepped on stage to introduce a show called Coming Home, which celebrates the moment when soldiers return to their canine companions.

Group Nine also lauded its work with ad partners like Enterprise, Grey Goose and Toyota, the latter of which put together a series about the Paralympics.

The company, which claims to be the most successful publisher on Facebook Watch, announced an extension of its Facebook partnership and the creation of several new shows on the platform—like Seeker Science Fair, about bringing the old school science fair to the modern age. It’ll showcase local science fair finalists, connecting these fledgling scientist rockstars with adoring fans on Facebook.

Another is a Thrillist program reinventing the road trip. Called “America Takes the Wheel,” the partnership with Facebook will invite the audience to participate; Thrillist Facebook fans control the itinerary by voting. The program will stream live every Saturday afternoon on Facebook Watch.

Also announced today, Group Nine-owned NowThis will provide Snapchat users breaking news coverage and real-time updates with NowBreaking, which will debut on the social platform’s Discover page in June.

Finally, the company said it’s utilizing its artificial intelligence software in a whole new way for the company. Group Nine Insights Analyst (GIA) helps inform editorial, but in a nod to the future, Group Nine announced it’s taking the software to brands.

Perhaps at next year’s event, the software will tell us how successful this year’s was.

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.