7 Media Brands Shaking Up the 2014 NewFronts

Original shows and exclusive deals dominate

It's been a week of nearly endless announcements from some of the Web's top media brands as they rolled out their biggest new initiatives to court potential advertisers at the Digital Content NewFronts. 

And while the NewFronts still have a few more days and presentations left, now is a good time to look back at some of the more riveting and industry-rattling reveals. 

Here, in no particular order, are seven media brands and agencies that made waves this week:

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong presents at the 2014 NewFronts Photo: Getty Images

AOL came into the NewFronts big and bold with the announcement of 16 new celebrity-stacked shows starring the likes of James Franco, Steve Buscemi and Zoe Saldana. "We're trying to get people with a meaningful digital footprint who can help us push the shows and market the shows," AOL video president Ran Harnevo told Adweek. "These are stars that really have a digital audience they can connect with." AOL will also be working with Nielsen to test TV-relatable ratings for each of its new shows.

Brand visibility metrics firm Kontera reported that AOL dominated online chatter in the NewFronts' first days, beating out presenters like BuzzFeed, Hulu, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Best bit: Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmmaker behind Super Size Me, will create AOL's first long-form show, "Connected," which gives video cameras to normal people so they can create vignettes about their lives. A concept imported from Israel, the show's already taken root in 11 other countries.

Crackle, despite being a decade old (it was originally called Grouper until being rebranded in 2007), continues to reinvent itself as it tries new approaches to video content. This year, the Sony-owned streaming service was riding on a wave of success thanks to its hit Jerry Seinfeld vehicle, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which was obviously renewed. At its NewFront, Crackle announced it has more than 100 episodes of original content on the way, including a musical documentary series called "Playing It Forward," produced by Robert Downey Jr.'s Team Downey studio.

The service also announced an exclusive deal with media agency Spark, whose clients will get first dibs on sponsoring new programs.

Best bit: Fresh off his landmark run in AMC's Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston talked about his upcoming original series for Crackle, called Tightrope. The comedy, produced by Cranston, will digitally replace an actor in a classic black-and-white detective drama with a modern-day talent. If nothing else, it should be interesting to check out.

Vice CEO Shane Smith took the stage at Brandcast and spun yarn about his magazine's humble, punk-rock beginnings before proclaiming: "People call us the next CNN. We are going to be 10 times CNN." His company made noise, otherwise, too, holding not one but two NewFronts events in Manhattan thanks to ridiculous demand. (Although the second show was lightly attended.) Vice launched a sports channel, revealed plans to expand across Europe and said its HBO series had been renewed for a third season, among other developments.

Best bit: Aside from Smith's predictions of becoming a media mega-empire, our favorite moment was Vice's announcement that its expansion into new video content niches includes a new monthly food series called "F-ck, That's Delicious" starring rapper Action Bronson.

DigitasLBi was one of the few agencies to truly make waves in the first week of NewFronts, when it announced not one, not two, but three significant deals. The global Publicis Groupe agency is a key player in the new "BuzzFeed in Residence" program, in which BuzzFeed content creators will collaborate with Digitas strategists to create real-time social postings, video and more.

Digitas also inked a data-based agreement with SimpleReach to give clients up-to-the-second comparitive info on how their marketing content is performing. And when YouTube announced its new "Google Preferred" program that will let advertisers target the top 5 percent of videos, guess who was announced as the initiative's first agency partner?

The agency's big showing is appropos since it helped found the NewFronts concept back in 2012.

Best bit: In an age of instant messaging and worldwide agency networks, it was interesting to note that the BuzzFeed in Residence initiative will actually rely on teams working together in person, with the site's general manager for video, Jonathan Perelman, saying it was "created with the belief that the best work will come from face-to-face collaboration."

Photo: Michelle Castillo

BuzzFeed, on that note, got quite a bit of attention with its first NewFront presentation. A relatively new player in the video space, the site has already racked up more than 1 billion views through highly shareable topics like "8 Facts About Food That Will Totally Creep You Out." 

Spending much of its presentation touting its video success to lure in more advertisers and brand content partners, BuzzFeed noted that it is developing roughly 30 types of videos based on its popular post formats like quizzes and "X Ways To Tell You're A Y" listicles.

Best bit: BuzzFeed's enthusiasm but lack of any real announcements definitely made it an outlier in the first week of NewFront presentations. As Adweek's Michelle Castillo noted: "The whole thing felt like a TED talk. I was super motivated after; I just didn't know what I was pumped about."

PopSugar, which began as one of many celebrity gossip blogs, has grown into one of the Web's top lifestyle media networks, a fact driven home by the NewFront announcement that its content views have grown 1,000 percent year-over-year. With 50 million viewers for its live and on-demand content, PopSugar announced 11 returning programs and eight new shows.

Best bit: PopSugar's first scripted series will be a sitcom developed by the popular video content team Above Average. Called "Seriously Distracted," it will center on a client-starved New York PR firm, which should make the show quite a talker among public relations types who love or hate to see their industry skewered.

Hulu drew on star power and played up its steady growth while introducing new CEO Mike Hopkins (the video service's third chief executive in a year and a half) to the audience of media buyers. Hulu plans to continue its committment to original programming, renewing all five of 2013's original series (The Awesomes, Behind the Mask, East Los High, Moone Boy and Quick Draw)along with this year's new supernatural show, Deadbeat. Hulu will be tripling its content marketing budget over the coming year to get more eyeballs for these original programs.

With Saturday Night Live's Cecily Strong warming up the crowd and appearances by stars like Mindy Kaling, Hulu also boasted several additions to its large pool of streaming options, which now will include NBCUniversal titles like The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, along with thousands of episodes of CBS shows negotiated earlier this year.   

Best bit: For all the talk of original series, native ad options and library additions, our favorite bit of the Hulu NewFront was the news that Pizza Hut would be testing an ad that lets viewers order pizza through Hulu mid-stream. Now that's innovation.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.
@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."