Just two weeks ago, the International Advertising Bureau had deemed this year’s Digital Content NewFronts the “new NewFronts.” Indeed, the 2020 slate is going to be very different—just not the way the IAB had initially intended.
The spread of the novel coronavirus, which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic today, prompted the IAB this morning to give companies the option to stream their events instead of presenting live during the weeklong conference. Now, companies are reevaluating their plans, with several of them—including YouTube, Twitter and Meredith—already making the switch to digital-only presentations.
UPDATE: On Wednesday, Digitas, Roku and Verizon Media said they were canceling their live in-person events and would instead develop streamed presentations. On Friday, BBC News said it would develop “a special pre-recorded production” for the NewFronts.
YouTube, which planned to present on the evening of April 30, became the first to make changes, announcing earlier today that it would hold a “digital-first” Brandcast. Twitter soon followed suit, saying that it will produce a fully streamed presentation during its slot, scheduled for the evening of April 27.
“We’re excited to embrace this new layer of flexibility that the IAB has so thoughtfully laid out for its presenters,” a Twitter spokesperson told Adweek. Meredith Corp., which had planned to take the stage the morning of April 30, will also stream its presentation, a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Vudu, the Walmart-owned ad-supported streamer that is rumored to be in sale talks with Comcast’s NBCUniversal, has canceled its participation in the NewFronts outright, a spokesperson told Adweek.
Other NewFronts presenters are still determining how to proceed. While The New York Times, slated to present April 27, hasn’t determined its official plan, the company is “exploring remote access options,” a spokesperson said. A rep for Ellen Digital Network, whose presentation is scheduled for April 30, said “we are still determining our plans.” So is Roku, whose presentation is scheduled for April 28, a spokesperson said.
Other presenters didn’t immediately respond to requests for comments about their plans, but expect more news to come in subsequent days as companies make those decisions and shore up what their digital presentations will look like.
The rethinking from NewFronts participants comes amid growing concerns about large-scale gatherings with regard to the transmission of coronavirus, which causes the illness COVID-19. It’s already prompted the cancellation or rescheduling of a number of industry events, including South By Southwest, Shoptalk, Facebook’s F8 developer conference and the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual NAB Show.
Shifting to a streaming NewFronts also comes as the industry faces company-imposed travel restrictions that could dramatically limit the attendance of in-person events. Already, major industry players including Amazon, Google and Twitter have locked down nonessential travel, making in-person attendance for presenters and audience members all but impossible for out-of-towners.
The changes will mean a vastly different NewFronts, which in years past have featured flashy live events and performances along with the networking and schmoozing opportunities that make it an essential time for digital media companies looking to attract advertising dollars. The IAB has emphasized that the streaming option, which it will retain in subsequent years, will ultimately allow more people to tune into the events and will give companies more “flexibility” over how they handle their presentation.
“By adding a streaming option to the NewFronts, we’ll transform the NewFronts and upfronts into the 21st century media and brand marketplace they were meant to be—a benefit that will last long after COVID-19 is relegated to the history books,” the IAB said earlier today.
Coronavirus has already affected the upfronts, the television industry’s sales season, where events are often even bigger and flashier than NewFronts events. A+E Networks, AMC Networks, Comcast’s FreeWheel and Fox News Media all canceled their March upfront events, making CNN the only network to hold an upfront presentation this month. And it’s cast a cloud of uncertainty over the global advertising industry as companies grapple with containing the fallout.
Sara Jerde, AJ Katz, Lisa Lacy and Scott Nover contributed reporting to this article.