The Story Behind AOL’s NewFront Deal

Early sponsor interest, fast start by Nicole Richie show buoy portal's video push

Is AOL winning the NewFronts so far? And did the company really sign a deal with an advertiser during its splashy event last week?

On the latter point, yes—for the most part. During last week’s NewFront at the Farley Post office in New York, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong broke in  at about 3:30 p.m.—before the NewFront was even over—with news that the company had inked a deal with Razorfish, Digitas and LBi to sponsor the company’s new business channel/series.

Turns out, Armstrong and company had only just heard about the deal being signed that day, right before AOL’s NewFront began. According to Razorfish’s global chief media officer Jeff Lanctot, his team met with AOL about the new business content, including the startup-themed Funded, on April 24 (the NewFront was April 30). “It was in the works over the weekend, and it got confirmed the day that Tim was on stage,” Lanctot said.

The Razorfish team decided quickly after that meeting it wanted to lock up the sponsorship, but had to get the client to sign off. “It was literally Tim waiting on our confirmation. It was like an hour beforehand,” Lanctot recalled.

Razorfish/Digitas/LBi’s quick move flies in the face of much of the anti-NewFront backlash of late—the idea that NewFronts aren’t necessarily like TV upfronts, since Web video inventory isn’t scarce.

“For video, not so much, but for high quality content, there’s scarcity,” said Lanctot. “They did a great job. This content was really, really good.”

So will we see a slew of such deals? Lanctot’s not sure. “I don’t expect to make more such deals but I wouldn’t rule it out. I do know that it will happen throughout the year. I think next year you’ll see more of this.”

Somebody might want to jump on one of AOL’s other projects: #Candidly Nicole. The new show, inspired by Nicole Richie’s tweets, generated over a million views in under a week. It seems that the power of Richie’s social media presence, along with promotional placements on and AOL Mail (17 million unique viewers daily via comScore), have proved potent. According to AOL execs, the company has also promoted #Candidly Nicole heavily across its syndication network AOL On, and the show also benefited from mentions on E!, MTV, The Ellen Show and in People magazine.