For magazine publishers looking to recoup lost print dollars, live events are becoming increasingly important as independent revenue streams. Over the past several years, titles like Cosmopolitan, Sports Illustrated and Essence (to name a few) have joined live event veterans like The Atlantic and The New Yorker in debuting a slew of new consumer-facing conferences and festivals—and taking advantage of advertisers' desires to connect with culturally-savvy audiences.
One of the buzziest of these events is New York magazine's annual Vulture Festival, a spin-off of the media company's popular culture blog, which kicks off for the third time this weekend. The 2016 festival is nearly double the size of the previous two years, with 34 different events from screenings and live podcast tapings to interviews with showrunners (like Shonda Rhimes and David Chase) and actors (including the casts of Mr. Robot and Better Call Saul).
This also marks New York Media's largest advertiser push to date around the festival, which resulted in companies like DirecTV, TNT, Hulu, Citi and Casper all signing on to sponsor experiential activations, panels, parties, digital coverage and more.
"This was the first year that we've actually gone out there with a dedicated sponsor effort," said publisher Larry Burstein, who last year hired the company's first-ever director of sponsorship sales, Daniel Jasper, to help oversee the events business. "Because there's a lot about the festival that's new and different, we made the decision to move it away from the media value add for the first time," Burstein added.
DirecTV, a first time sponsor, saw the festival as an opportunity to expand awareness—especially among pop culture-savvy millennials—around its growing roster of original content and OTT subscription services.
"Vulture brings a different type of potential customer," explained Rob Stecklow, GM of sports and sponsorships for the AT&T/DirecTV Entertainment Group. "It's on the East Coast, whereas a lot of similar festivals we do are on the West Coast, and it's definitely what we perceive to be younger-skewing, more millennial."
In addition to sponsoring the festival's largest venue, Milk Studios, and hosting an opening night party, DirecTV will be offering free screenings of two of its original series, Kingdom and You, Me, Her.
Over at another venue, Highline Stages, is the Casper Podcast Lounge, where live recordings of shows like How Did This Get Made and Reply All will take place. In between events, attendees can try out mattresses from the online-only company, which happens to be a frequent podcast advertiser. (Casper will also, of course, have 100 percent share of voice around all podcast programming from the Vulture events.)
"As an online company, this gives us a way to be able to enter the conversation in a different medium," said Casper co-founder and CCO Luke Sherwin. "These festivals and other experiential activations help us build trust and credibility with people who are actually physically there, and then those people go and talk about that experience in a way that amplifies that credibility."
Looking ahead, Burstein plans to explore an expansion into more Vulture events—and perhaps even festivals outside of New York. "Vulture has really become its own brand outside of New York magazine," he said. "We see a lot of potential there."