Commentary

Video Speculations On 2014 NewFronts

Working in digital media and advertising, technology is often the driver of content. Understandably, a lot of one’s time throughout the year is spent analyzing data. But with the annual Digital Content NewFronts kicking off at the end of April, now’s the time for that data to be synthesized into something meaningful and attractive for the advertising community.

More than any other time of year, it’s an opportunity to look at the digital landscape through the narratives of the companies helping to shape that landscape, anchoring the collective momentum into something tangible and engaging and -- let’s be honest here -- profitable.

It’s the culmination of months of planning, and it’s a chance to examine strategies for the year to come. So what will we see this year?

Publishers Worth Watching

Much has been made of the fact that more traditional media outlets are joining this year’s NewFronts lineup. The numbers don’t lie: last year, two of the 15 presenting companies were legacy TV or print brands; this year, it’s seven out of 20.

Having Time Inc. and The New York Times in the mix is a validator for online video and a sign that the biggest names in media recognize they need to get in the game. The reality, however, is that their video strategies will revolve largely around news-related content (a tough sell), and their need to scale audiences to make their video content ROI-positive will likely present a challenge.

If I had to put my money on a publisher to watch, I’d say it’s Vice. There’s a reason that people are passionate about Vice: They know who they are and what their brand stands for; they produce strong content; and people actually like to watch what they make. And while their edgier videos may not attract advertisers, their reputation allows them the flexibility to partner with brands to produce content that’s “safe,” but still retains some edge.

Web Stars in the Spotlight

If I had to put a flag in the sand right now to say what 2014 will be remembered for, my bet is on the validation of digital by traditional media companies through acquisitions and investments. That’s evidenced by what’s happening in the MCN and YouTube creator space, such as Maker and Disney, Collective and ProSieben, RocketJump and Lionsgate.

An implicit declaration being made here is that the definition of celebrity is evolving, and that personal brands that attract organic audience -- especially younger audiences -- are being recognized as valuable. This is a definitive shift in thinking for the media industry, where conventional wisdom dictated that the “bigger” the star (as manufactured by the machine), the bigger the success of whatever content was associated with them.

Working with talent that brings a significant digital footprint is becoming all the more important, and the ability for creators to reach audiences directly is reshaping how companies cast and produce their shows -- not to mention how traditional media companies will leverage their own legacy IP to market to these new audiences.

Advertiser Urgency

When it comes to the NewFronts and advertisers, it has been interesting to watch the evolution over the last few years. In 2012, the goal was simply to get the word out about online video and pique advertisers’ curiosity. In 2013, we were trying to establish legitimacy.

This year, I think it’s going to be all about highlighting scarcity in premium video. While there’s still something of a learning curve when it comes to video advertising, buyers know their clients appreciate the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. Since they’re starting to see there’s only so much great content to go around, we’ll hopefully see a shift from conversations to transactions.

The debate about scarcity will likely continue, depending upon your vested interest in how ad dollars are being spent. But ultimately, there will be a bifurcation of brands looking to race to the bottom, and brands looking to elevate themselves by partnering with premium content producers.

Finally, although most publishers still aren’t at a place where they’re making their premium content available programmatically, this is likely going to be key to driving sales in the coming years. It will be a hot topic of conversation coming out of the 2014 NewFronts.

Measurement Evolution

While there’s still a healthy debate over the future of online video measurement, making digital video buying on par with TV buying through a single unit of measurement is critical to the industry’s success. At its 2012 event, AOL became the first publisher to measure its video campaigns using GRPs, and since then, we’ve seen other premium publishers follow suit. We’ll see more new measurement initiatives and partnerships this year that attempt to speak the language of the increasing number of TV buyers in the audience.

While I have a vested interest in video, I’m a true believer in the power of this medium. The walls between digital video and TV are crumbling, and that will become even more evident at this year’s event.

Audiences are becoming screen agnostic, and over time, content creators and advertisers will do the same. Eventually, the NewFronts and the TV Upfronts will merge into one event.

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