The Digitas NewFront Dog and Pony Review

I’m still not convinced that digital video needs an upfront, but I will say this — if you’re going to stage one, you better introduce some new shows.

And that, at the very least, is what the big Web giants have done so far at the Digitas NewFront, a two-week Web video fete featuring presentations by Yahoo, AOL, Hulu, Microsoft, YouTube and others in front of agencies and brands in New York.

You may recall that I’ve been a skeptic of digital upfronts and wrote here two months ago that they have failed in the past because there is no need for online video to be bought in an upfront fashion.

I still believe that’s true, but from watching video interviews with presenters, following the coverage and reading the reports on the event, I am ready to not change, but to shift my position. Past digital upfronts have largely consisted of digital programmers simply piggybacking onto the TV buying season, and scrounging around for extra digital dollars during the time period when buyers are talking to networks and planning budgets for the year ahead.

This time though, the Web programmers are going full-bore with show rollouts. AOL introduced 50 new shows it’ll be launching, Vuguru touted four new scripted entrants, including one created by Sex and the City writer Amy Harris, while Yahoo talked up its Tom Hanks project and showcased a new Web series fronted by Katie Couric with Poland Spring on board as a sponsor.

Plus, the Web giants trotted out stars on stage such as Kristin Chenoweth and Rashida Jones.

Does this mean advertisers are going to pony up more than they already are? Online video is growing by 22% to $2.3 billion this year, but it doesn’t need an upfront market, said Brian Wieser, senior research analyst with Pivotal Research Group, who penned a short note on the digital upfronts.

“While publishers are finding ways to expand inventory (for example, by placing pre-roll video ads prior to online games or by adding to ad loads), the total volume available for sale is limited, and very little of it would be deemed to be of sufficient value that it must be locked up in advance,” he wrote. “For now, most of the buys of online video will remain within the bundles that traditional TV sellers attach to conventional buys, as occurs today with the broadcast networks and Hulu, for example.”

Even so, if you’re going to wave the pom poms and try to get noticed, then do it right. Bring out the stars, roll out the shows, do what TV networks do at this time of year. And that’s what Web programmers have done well so far at the Digitas NewFront.

A digital upfront may not be necessary now, but these programmers could just insinuate themselves into the buying process in a few years if they keep their shows and their stars in front of buyers. Digitas said more than 750 attended, half of whom were brand marketers.

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