Ahead of NewFronts, Industry Leaders Predict Brand Safety Will Be Top of Mind

Adapting to OTT's evolution also a focus of Adweek's annual video roundtable

The roundtable included (l. to r.) Anna Bager, IAB; Sarah Personette, Twitter; Alana Calderone Polcsa, Warner Brothers Entertainment; Peter Naylor, Hulu; John Halley, Viacom; and Tara Walpert Levy, Google and YouTube. Chris Loupos for Adweek
Headshot of James Cooper

As the 2019 NewFronts kicks off in New York today, the brand safety issue will once again be the apex talking point between programmers and brand and agency partners, who are considering whether to shift more of their advertising budgets into OTT and non-linear television. The annual Adweek NewFronts roundtable convened at Adweek’s HQ a few weeks ahead of the marketplace also revealed that following consumer patterns and listening to their view wants and needs will be central, as will the debate over free and subscription viewing models. Weighing in on what’s ahead were Alana Calderone Polcsa, svp, Warner Brothers Entertainment, the Ellen Show and the Ellen Digital Network; John Halley, COO, ad sales, Viacom; Anna Bager, evp, industry initiatives, IAB; Sarah Personette, global vp, Twitter client solutions; Peter Naylor, svp, ad sales, Hulu; and Tara Walpert Levy, vp, agency and brand solutions, Google and YouTube. One interesting trend that surfaced during the discussion: the courtship of DTC and challenger brands in the OTT space, with programmers seeing them as almost kindred spirits and particularly ripe for their nontraditional platforms. —James Cooper

Adweek: What are some of the major trends and themes driving the streaming and OTT economy as we head into the NewFronts this year? Tara, we’ll start with you and work around the table.

Chris Loupos

Tara Walpert Levy: Well, I think candidly there’s a fundamental change in what and how people are watching. It’s less through traditional television and more through alternative devices, whether that’s connected TV or mobile. And I think the primary reason for that is also they’re watching a widely different range of content that’s driven by their personal passions. The whole idea, I think, of prime-time television has become personal, which is the headline, really, as we head into the NewFronts.

Peter Naylor: The first big trend we see is consumers want and expect everything to be personal in media. And then the other big consumer trend is the rise of on-demand everything. And so, when you combine that with the rise of personalization, that means television and video is increasingly on demand and personalized, and that’s what OTT is all about. It’s the right everything, the right time, the right place, the right context, the right show because they chose it, it’s personal and that’s what’s fueling this because it’s just a better way.

John Halley: A theme we talk about is what’s old is new again. What I mean by that is that video product, digital video offerings that eight years ago consisted of full-episode consumption on a desktop computer and then morphed to mobile and app is now increasingly happening via TV screens. If you talk to any big long-form player, 80% plus of that video duration is happening in the living room on a TV screen, often with other people in the room. So OTT is not an 18-year-old on the subway watching Netflix on his phone; it’s much more what we think of as television. And it’s TV in its ability to drive brand awareness.

Alana Calderone Polcsa: From a publisher standpoint, business diversification is going to be a trend. So publishers increasingly want to own their own destiny and yet want to be where audiences are en masse, which, frankly, they don’t fully monetize and they don’t own, so as a result you’re going to start to see a mix from an advertiser perspective in terms of offering. So while the NewFronts is really rooted in video content, you’ll start to see offerings like experiential events, podcasts and other products that really offer the advertisers more and let audiences experience their brand in different ways.

Tara and Sarah, where are you in the journey to improving brand safety?

Walpert Levy: I think we’re probably at this the longest, and we’ve taken a lot of bold steps over the last 24 months, which I think at the highest level are really around tightening a policy based on what we learned, not only from our partners and our clients but also NGOs and other experts leaning into not only the machine learning, but the humans who are looking at the content as well. What I think matters to our clients is multiple third parties have repeatedly said we’re delivering 99% plus brand safety in every environment on YouTube, and they seem very happy with that feedback. Per Comscore, the market sees YouTube as the No. 1 OTT ad-supported platform in terms of reach and viewing hours. And we offer a lot of signals that associate more with what is not just a brand safety issue, but is a traditional marketer desire, which is content that’s more likely to be seen on the living room screen, that’s more likely to have a higher production value and that has additional levels of brand suitability protection around it.

(From left) Personette, Naylor and Walpert Levy discuss brand safety, engagement and trends in streaming and OTT.
Chris Loupos for Adweek

This story first appeared in the April 29, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@jcoopernyc james.cooper@adweek.com James Cooper is editorial director of Adweek.