Mobile Will Be Huge at the NewFronts, but Presenters Will Talk About It Differently

AOL and BuzzFeed represent different mindsets

AOL will deliver its Digital Content NewFronts presentation on Tuesday evening, and reps for the tech player told Adweek that roughly 50 percent of its two-hour showcase will focus on mobile.

It's not as if the words "smartphone" and "tablet" will be included in half of the sentences uttered by CEO Tim Armstrong and his pitch team, which also will include Huffington Post chief Arianna Huffington. But they're likely to emphasize how new video programming is relevant to the mobile-obsessed millennial and Gen Z generations.

"Video should be screen agnostic but device aware—doing what TV can do in terms of deep storytelling, but also what it can't do, like naturally integrating mobile and social elements," said Gerasimos Manolatos, AOL Platforms rep.

Like other NewFronts presenters, AOL isn't providing specifics about what it plans to share on stage. But its stated mobile focus jibes with what marketers likely want to hear. After all, Ooyala—a tech company that helps the likes of ESPN, Vice, Univision and The Washington Post execute digital video—recently found that 40 percent of viewing is on mobile devices.

"Mobile is a mandatory part of any NewFronts conversation," said Dan Slivjanovski, chief marketing officer for cross-screen ad-tech marketer RhythmOne. "This year, mobile spend is expected to exceed desktop spend for the first time, and that trend is expected to continue as advertisers follow audiences across channels."

Amanda Taylor, CEO of digital publisher DanceOn, added that "all content and advertising must take into account how it's consumed across devices and platforms."

NewFronts presenter Defy Media—originally launched as Break Media in 1998 before merging with Alloy Digital two years ago—agrees. "Given increasing viewership and focus on these platforms, our presentation will include mobile as a key component of [our] media offerings," said  Defy Media president Keith Richman.

At the same time, some NewFronts presenters like BuzzFeed and Whistle Sports don't plan on making mobile a major focus of their pitches.

"We see mobile and social as the same thing," explained BuzzFeed rep Christina DiRusso. "We will never make anything that doesn't look great on mobile, since over 60 percent of our traffic is mobile. As such, there won't be any [NewFronts] section dedicated to it."

Brian Selander, Whistle Sports evp, had a similar response: "Given our young millennial demographic, everything we do or create is done with the belief that it's likely going to be watched and shared first—or at least some point very early in its lifecycle—on a mobile device."

There are clearly two different mindsets heading into the show: Hey, mobile is totally now, and we're on it  versus Du-u-hh. One seems appropriate for Web 1.0-born media brands—AOL, Defy Media—versus millennial-style players like BuzzFeed and Whistle Sports, but what messaging style will resonate more with advertisers? It's arguable that brand marketers—the ones holding the budgetary purse strings who are often a little on the older side—still need to be spoon-fed descriptions of why mobile should be a primary concern. 

Sean Corcoran, svp and director of digital and social media at Mediahub/Mullen, said presenters should "absolutely" have a strong focus on mobile.

"That's how content is consumed today, across screens and devices," he said. "So as digital media companies begin to create content and programming that can deliver the scale and relevance of at least some TV programming, the opportunity to deliver that in ways that can be engaging to today's multi-device audience is utterly crucial."

Whatever message presenters choose, everyone agrees that mobile consumption is more pertinent than ever at the fourth annual NewFronts, which runs from April 27 to May 7.

"Regardless of channel and device, advertisers and publishers alike must keep pace, as behaviors shift, and deliver compelling ideas through content no matter where it lives," said Tom Potts, managing director of media at Lowe Profero.