So, Why Exactly Is Zynga Hosting a NewFront?

Beleaguered company out to tout its potential clout in mobile video

You’ve had a rocky IPO. There’ve been major threats to your core business and lots of big executive departures. And you don’t actually have a video series.

Time for a NewFront, right? On a Friday night, no less.

That's exactly what Zynga is planning to do—close out the week of NewFront mania with an event this evening, during which it will try to make a bold claim: That, despite all its challenges and its treatment of advertising as a side project to date, it’s actually poised to make a killing in mobile Web video.

“As you start to see a shift in the mobile ad market from display to rich media to mobile, we’re in a great position,” said Adam Sussman, Zynga's svp of sales. “Mobile video has high value to brands.”

Sure, but why would Zynga be the one to capture that value? Sussman and his colleague Julie Shumaker, vp of ad sales at Zynga, are trying to make the case that given the state of the mobile ad market (where display advertising has greatly underwhelmed most brands, and transactional advertising has focused on local), video is where the brand dollars will flow. And mobile games with natural breaks are ideal for video ads.

“In a world that doesn’t have scarcity, we think mobile actually ends up looking more like TV,” said Shumaker. For example, the company recently rolled out video spots for the kids movie Despicable Me in the new Draw Something 2. “We have a very healthy mobile ad business today.”

That may be where Zynga needs to lean, as mobile steals players away from its core social games. In that arena, micro transactions ruled. That may not prove to be the cash cow in mobile games.

To date, mobile game advertising is nascent. Several startups, including Kiip and SessionM, have been pushing a rewards-based model: if you watch an ad, you get coins, points, lives and the like.

But Zynga believes a simpler approach may rule. “Our games are turn-based,” said Sussman, “with natural stops. They offer a great opportunity for bold, fun ads.”

“The in-game ad category is about to see a monumental shift,” added Shumaker, a veteran of in-game ad companies like Double Fusion and EA.

Zynga knows it has work to do to demonstrate that shift, and the value of its model. And they need to wow a crowd possibly burned out on long speeches and presentations about CPMs. So expect lots of interactive game play during tonight’s NewFront. “We really want to encourage our clients to play,” Shumaker said.