Viacom's Lucas: Focus On All Fronts, Not NewFronts Or Upfronts
Contenders of all stripes claim dominance. Plots both noble and nefarious are hatched. Alliances are forged and deals are struck.
Like “Game of Thrones?” Well, then you’ll love the upfront.
Every spring, media’s content kings rally their sales forces to fight for the tens of billions of dollars in ad commitments at stake. One of the earliest turf battles comes as networks schedule their annual upfront presentations -- a dance that has become more and more interesting in recent years.
The broadcast networks always lock down dates for their presentations in a single week in mid-May, but Turner wedged its way into broadcast week last year, and USA Network is following suit this year. And more and more cable networks are pushing later into the season, including our own MTV, which moved its presentation this year to late April from its traditional February slot.
But a few new players are raising eyebrows as well. Digital media companies entered the field this year -- Google, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft, among others -- holding their own upfront-like presentations last week in New York that showcased online video content. The presentations have been dubbed the “NewFront.”
I read about these presentations while I was, somewhat ironically, on the road visiting ad clients with Erik Flannigan and Dermot McCormack, the digital content chiefs of our entertainment and music groups, respectively. By way of introduction, Erik leads the team that helps bring “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” online every day in their entirety; Dermot and his team make MTV the most social brand in television, across Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr and Instagram. Together, Erik and Dermot represent MTV, VH1, CMT, Logo, Comedy Central, Spike and TV Land.
We walked advertisers through our connected content strategy -- how our networks tell stories that begin on TV and move across platforms. We talked about how we use social to amplify our content, and connect with audiences in a constant feedback loop that has them more engaged in our brands than ever.
It dawned on me that perhaps the message the media industry is sending to the marketplace -- as we jockey for juxtaposition, starting NewFronts to compete with upfronts -- is doing a disservice to the media that we as content creators have at our disposal. Because, for media and marketer alike, it’s not about the NewFront or the upfront -- it’s about being on all fronts.
Think about the average day in the life of the young millennial consumer reached by networks like MTV and Comedy Central. They wake up, grab their phones, immediately check texts and social media. Throughout the day -- at work, at home, at school -- they’re watching and sharing video clips across a number of devices, tweeting or posting their favorites. After they get home, they fire up the DVR or VOD and catch up on “Jersey Shore” while checking Facebook. Maybe later on they watch an episode of “Tosh.0,” simultaneously watching a baseball game on a tablet app, or maybe they’re playing Xbox while watching “South Park” on a laptop.
As media companies battle to carve out selling season territory, our audiences are experiencing content without borders, 24/7. The idea of a NewFront versus an upfront to a millennial would be, at best, foreign -- and at worst, ridiculous.
That’s why we try to create content the way our audiences consume it -- without borders. Sure, everything begins with television for us -- after all, we pump around $3 billion a year into programming and reach 100 million households on television. But we also reach 100 million unique visitors a month and stream more than 776,000 videos a month. Our brands have 190 million Facebook fans and 13 million Twitter followers. We attract 13 million visitors a month to our mobile properties.
Within our cross-platform footprint, we’ve developed co-viewing apps like MTV’s WatchWith, online tentpole events like MTV’s O Music Awards, and exclusive digital content for shows like MTV’s “Teen Wolf” and Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0,” even when they’re out of season. All of it draws from and connects back to our on-air programming.
According to Nielsen, millennials switch attention between media platforms every two minutes. If you hope to build any kind of engagement with this audience, you’d better be on every single one of those platforms with unique and compelling content. You’d better cultivate a go-to brand that fans seek out on every screen. And as an industry, we’d better be pushing for measurement that effectively captures viewing everywhere. That’s why, in this time of convergence, the “divide and conquer” approach that is pitting online against television this upfront season seems like a step backward.
If there’s one idea that everyone has come around to, it’s that content is indeed the killer app. And that great content will remain king -- on all fronts.