What We Learned From the First Day of NewFronts West

From brand safety standards to new podcasts

Los Angeles Times execs announced two new podcasts to follow the massive hit Dirty John. IAB
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Vice called foul on the current brand safety system, the Los Angeles Times announced two new podcasts to follow the massive hit Dirty John and BBC News delved into “the science of memory.”

Those were among the highlights Tuesday at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s first NewFronts West, held in L.A.’s NeueHouse Hollywood. The two-day event is the West Coast counterpart to the annual New York NewFronts event in late April and early May.

During yesterday’s presentations, actress Felicity Huffman talked about creating her digital platform, What the Flicka, because she was “drowning in motherhood” and wanted to “elevate the voices of mom content creators.”

Music streamer LiveXLive teased nearly two dozen projects in development, including a series that will pair adoptable animals with popular musicians and another that will send a MacGyver-like “tour doctor” to solve bands’ problems on the road. Meanwhile, Ellen DeGeneres’ Ellen Digital Network unveiled new partnerships with model Ashley Graham and actress Ayesha Curry.

But Vice left perhaps the most lasting impact during the first NewFronts West day. During the company’s end-of-day presentation, execs released findings from an 18-month-long study that they say poke holes in the widely accepted “keyword blacklists” that flag content as potentially objectionable to advertisers. That system, meant to help brands pick inoffensive places to run ads, actually excludes “important and necessary” subjects like race, religion and LGBTQIA issues.

The media company found that “gay” is one of the most flagged keywords, ahead of “rape,” “death,” “heroin” or “gun.” Other LGBTQIA descriptors like “transgender” and “bisexual” placed higher on the blacklists than “shooting,” “porn,” “killing” and “drugs.” “Asian,” “Muslim” and “interracial” also appear at the top of the lists.

“It’s a very faulty system,” said Joshua Weaver, Vice’s director of media. “Brands need a more meticulous analysis of what they’re safeguarding against.”

Dominique Delport, the company’s global chief revenue officer, said the existing system is counterproductive and has “unintended consequences” for the kinds of diverse and inclusive programming that are mainstays on Vice.

In issuing a “call to arms” for other publishers to follow suit, Vice said it will use the Oracle Data Cloud’s contextual brand safety solution, which goes deeper than keywords and scores content based on the context of its storytelling.

Vice will start testing the Oracle product before the end of the year.

New Vice series announced Tuesday include 18 With Issues (featuring host Em Odesser interviewing teen activists, first-time voters and young politicians in mid-term election hot spots) and Clothes Minded (a makeover show celebrating trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming youngsters prepping for major events like proms and quinceañeras).

In other NewFronts West news, the Los Angeles Times plans to launch two podcasts in the first quarter 2019, aiming to replicate the franchise-building success of Dirty John. That series went from print to 27 million downloads worldwide, an Oxygen documentary and an upcoming Bravo series, with Season 2 following a different true-crime story in the works.

The first new podcast project, tentatively titled Big Willie, will follow a local street racing veteran and Vietnam veteran, examining his eccentric career and checkered legacy; the second, Room 20, centered on an unidentified car crash victim who has been in a coma for 17 years, will piece together clues about the man’s life.

Meanwhile, BBC News execs and their in-house branded content team, Story Works, have been using neuroscience to study “the connection between memory and emotions and what that means for brands,” said Caitlin Harley, director, multi-platform ad sales research.

Harley said that brands should dial up the emotional energy early in their content and be unafraid to “hit the gas.” She added that brands should go for more emotional peaks and lean into cinematic techniques because, she said, “craftsmanship matters.” The team is selling their expertise in helping create the kind of content that embeds brands into consumers’ long-term memory.

@TLStanleyLA terry.stanley@adweek.com T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.