Here’s What Digital Marketers Thought About This Year’s NewFronts

Hulu was the show-stopper, and marketers are keeping a close eye on Vudu

One buyer noted that "TV talk" has become more prominent at NewFronts events, like Condé Nast’s. Sara Jerde for Adweek

The slog of NewFronts, during which digital platforms, streaming services and even retailers like Target tried to wow advertisers with their content lineups and digital programming, is finally over. Amid the flashy presentations, star-studded appearances and onstage reptiles, marketers who attended the events are getting their bearings about what they actually heard.

For some of them, the flurry of presentations was a reminder that everything is turning into TV.

“What I’ve seen now, over the last week, was that TV-style creative was really taking over a lot of our digital partners,” said Noah Mallin, head of content and experience at Wavemaker. “The language, it’s been creeping in, but this was the first year where you saw partners like Condé, for instance, describing their new content as ‘pilots.’”

Condé Nast’s upfront presentation in Hudson Yards, which Mallin attended, indeed positioned itself aggressively as a competitor to television, describing itself and its new ad offering as “prime time.” While the NewFronts were ostensibly created to bring TV-style ad buying to digital media properties, the “TV talk,” as Mallin put it, has become more pronounced over the years. Meredith, another magazine publisher, emphasized its YouTube and OTT ambitions, and presenters like Studio71, Twitter, Viacom and Vice played up their content and streaming plans, a prime opportunity for winning over video ad dollars.

Jenny Schauer, Digitas’ vp and group director of media, said few presentations leaned into a sense of urgency for advertisers to invest immediately and long-term.

“It seems as though publishers are focusing more on engaging content over securing an annual investment in their properties,” Schauer said. “Through bringing the focus back to the content, it also gave publishers a strong platform to pitch their deeper content integration opportunities, including a resurgence of product placement offerings.”

As far as presentation goes, there was one clear winner, according to the marketers Adweek spoke to: Hulu.

“Hulu hit it out of the park,” Bharad Ramesh, the managing director of PHD’s U.S. digital marketplace, told Adweek. “Pretty much a TV upfront.”

Collin Perry, an advanced TV and marketing expert at the digital marketing agency and consultancy January Digital who attended the Hulu NewFronts presentation, said he was particularly excited about Hulu’s “pause ads” feature, which the platform announced in January, and the streaming service’s new ad format designed to target binge-watchers.

“Not only is the ad unit itself great, [but] seeing Hulu’s ability to ideate and implement a new ad unit is great, too, because it establishes the platform as innovative, nimble and advertiser-friendly,” Perry said.

Hulu’s data on its subscribers is particularly appealing as advertisers look for better ways to use first-party data for better targeting. Ultimately, the presentation made Perry optimistic about addressable TV’s future. “All of the platforms are quickly reacting to the emerging space and working to appeal to both subscribers and advertisers, so everyone wins,” Perry said.

Schauer agreed, saying, “Platforms that talked about the power of intent, which was a key theme in several presentations, show the most promise. Those that put a focus on putting real behaviors and signals at the forefront of relevancy and personalization decisions and taking the guesswork out of trying to figure out what your consumers want.”

Ramesh said he was also impressed with Vice’s NewFront, during which the company announced that it would no longer accept certain terms associated with people’s identities on advertiser blacklists. Mallin said the stance was a “smart pivot” for the company.

Mallin said he was disappointed there wasn’t more information about commerce during the NewFronts. Vudu and Walmart talked shoppable ads and other digital shopping experiences at their presentation and Target announced a revamped in-house agency, but Mallin said Target’s presentation “ended up being fairly light” on shopping specifics.

Vudu and Walmart’s digital strategies, however, are a point of keen interest for some marketers going forward.

“Walmart had a lot of interest, but the jury is out on how successful they can be in media,” Ramesh said.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.