What Does Social Have To Do With The NewFronts? Only Everything

At the risk of going entirely off-script, today I’m going to write about the NewFronts, maybe just because everyone else is -- and if anything characterizes the Social Media Insider, it’s a vicious insistence on being on top of the latest trends.

But the good news is that when it comes to social media’s role in the broader media business, there is no going off-script. If the one NewFront presentation I went to is any guide, much of the success of the entire digital video enterprise relies on social -- maybe (in a sense) even more than it relies on money. Without great distribution, no content provider alive is going to ensure its content will see the light of day -- and no advertiser is going to want to pay money to be part of it.

In that context, social is -- more often than not -- the straw that stirs the drink. There is no great distribution strategy without social; for all the head-fakes created by the industry’s insistence on overcomplicating just about everything, it’s really dead-simple. We can talk about algorithms and analytics all we want, but none of it disassembles the basic truth that distribution = money.

So there I was at Digitas’ NewFront yesterday -- which, given that it’s an agency, is more a video content smorgasbord than a solicitation to buy ads on specific programming -- and all every speaker seemed to talk about was social.  CVS executive vice president Helena Foulkes boasted about how, in its first week, the company’s decision to stop selling cigarettes resulted in 215 million mentions across all social platforms, and how her college-age daughter was duly impressed when CVS’ cigarette ban became a trending topic. (For her part, Meredith Vieira, who interviewed Foulkes, admitted that her Twitter skills are minimal enough that some of her followers think she tweets drunk.)

Ivan Wickstead, senior vice president/global chief marketing officer of Old Navy, showed off the series of spots written and directed by Amy Poehler, in which, naturally, the YouTube views of the outtakes rival those of the actual commercials. The talk by Harley Morenstein of Epic Meal Time simply embodied social media success; he has six million subscribers on his show’s YouTube channel.

Eli Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy, went on at some length about a new metric at the company called “attention minutes” which is, essentially, a measure of how long the attention a piece of content actually gets, and the “Between Two Ferns” gang dissected the success of the Affordable Care Act-themed episode with President Obama, which got even more views than the one with Justin Bieber. (That’s the most uplifting stat that I’ve heard all week.)

At no point did anyone mention a media-buying metric. The entire afternoon was a CPM-free zone.

As I said, this was Digitas’ NewFront, so it’s a little different than the rest. Still, if I were an advertiser looking to raise my budget in digital video, the first question I would ask a prospective content partner is this: What’s your social distribution strategy?

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