Why This Year's NewFronts Really Mattered

  • by May 9, 2014
In its fourth year, the Digital Content NewFronts have turned a corner. They’ve grown up.

Since inception, NewFronts generated attention solely for being, well… new. But that novelty can only last so long. This year, the attention NewFronts got was for a different reason. They’re becoming meaningful.
The primary reason for this change is due to the one factor differentiating all the weeks focused on attracting advertisers’ attention (be it NewFronts, upfronts or infronts): content. Specifically, advertiser-friendly, long-form, original content that is both more sophisticated and also blends in advertising better.

This is content that the NewFront players are not only investing in the creation of, but backing up with marketing as well. With content providers spending money for eyeballs, the hope is the advertisers will join in at a larger scale to pay for access to those eyeballs.
So what happened? What’s different about this year than the last three? A few things:
New leadership:  Several of these digital content producers, while digital natives on the distribution side, have hired heavy hitters on the programming side who know how to appeal to big brands and advertisers. Hulu, for instance, recently brought on Craig Erwich from Warner Horizon, and Microsoft/Xbox now has CBS’ Nancy Tellem. This blend of new school and old guard makes for a sophisticated and effective one-two punch that advertisers will likely find appealing.
Cord-cutting and screen-merging:  Cord-cutting is on the rise, with some five million people canceling their cable and broadband subscriptions since 2010, by some accounts. 

Contributing to this trend is the increasing interconnection between devices. Web video is no longer relegated to the laptop screen any more than mobile video is left to the smartphone. All the screens are now linked to the big one in the living room through bridges like Chromecast or connected TV apps.

With that line blurring, so is the notion of what content can be created for them. Digital video no longer only means short-form content good for “snackable” consumption while on the move. With access to the big screen TV, content developers can now make TV-style content.
Big money: Disney paid $500 million (or as much as $950 million with some achievable benchmarks) for Maker Studios. AwesomenessTV, now owned by DreamWorks, bought Big Frame, and millions are being invested in video startups. 

That kind of cash makes for more than just nice headlines. The new corporate overlords are going to want to see a return on that investment, much more than a few cute viral videos can provide. Big bucks means a desire for more big bucks, and TV is where those bucks come from.
Third time’s a charm? There’s a difference between creating content, and creating good content -- or at least content that draws an audience. The digital upstarts are learning this through trial and error.

Yahoo didn’t mention any of the six original Web series it introduced at last year’s NewFronts, instead focusing on an entirely new batch. AOL renewed only four of the 15 original programs that bowed last year, and added 10 new ones. Hopefully, this isn’t a case of throwing new shows against the wall to see which stick, but instead an evolution of the company's original content strategy based on learning from last year’s failures.
But it’s going to take more than new content to bring in the advertisers. Sure, digital video advertising spend has increased to $2.8 billion last year, but that’s still dwarfed by the $75 billion broadcast and cable ad revenue raked in. The content may help increase this based on more viewers, but better digital and video advertising technology is needed to make brands feel better about opening up their wallets on a format they still don’t fully understand.
Reports  noting that more than half of video ads purchased are never viewed don’t help. Fortunately, there are steps being taken to address this. In June, a new IAB standard will go to into effect advising that at least 50% of a video ad must be viewed before it’s constitutes a “view” in measurement parlance. That’s a start.
Another is an interesting strategy taken by music video site Vevo, which will insert ads into the music video itself using technology from Mirria, similar to how TV broadcasts display ads behind behind the batter at baseball games.
And finally, expect more branded entertainment on the horizon. The larger content houses are producing not only original content, but offering to produce the advertising and marketing content to run alongside it. They're selling not just the ad space, but the creation of it as well. Notably, the old-guard titans are taking this route first, as are several news media brands.
Next year, maybe the NewFront trend story will be less on the flashy new series trotted out for the advertisers, and more on the less-sexy ad-tech advancements.

Better content gets you in the game. But even better monetization is what keeps you there.  

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