NewFronts: What's It All About?

So begins the fifth annual NewFronts, this morning in New York. Over the next two weeks starting with a presentation from The New York Times, some of the biggest digital video content creating entities will show off new programming and strategies. But that’s not really the show.

Really, it’s more a blitz of quickly displayed facts about millions of views, completion rates, content sharing, millennial demographics, smartphone strategies, native advertising opportunities and carefully-worded invitations for brands to link up on branded content projects.

It’s easy to leave NewFronts presentations with a clearer idea of the presenters’ strategies and extremely vague ideas about what it is they produce.

Probably that’s because NewFronts have grown up with a willful audience that does its own things. Everything got big, fast, and complicated too. 



For example, five years ago, mobile video was nothing much. Now it’s center stage. Facebook didn’t have much to do with video consumption. Now 10 billion videos are viewed there every day, and Snapchat, which just began in 2012, not only matches that, but there are reports that about a third of those Snapchat videos are created by the users themselves.

It’s a new world. Again. Every damn year.

This year, Yahoo has decided to present itself to advertisers more privately.Maker Studios, owned by Disney, will have a closed-to-riffraff (and press) breakfast instead of a wider presentation. AOL will open its NewFront to the public or at least create the illusion, and invite advertising agency reps to participate in a self-curated event.

Yet, despite the fact that NewFronts is designed to be a showcase for new, bold, advertising-supported digital content, possibly last year’s biggest headline was that Hulu bought the rerun rights to “Seinfeld.” That’s not quite fair--Hulu also announced a new ad-free model, oddly introduced at an ad-centered event. 

And Yahoo, in a corporate version of “Fantasy Island,” announced lots and lots of things, only a few of which ever were made. (In 2014, Xbox not only failed to produce on its ambitious slate of content, which was to have included a series from Steven Spielberg; it actually folded entirely, about two months later.)

“The scorecard from year to year on actual releases and renewals is depressingly scarce,” grouses Jocelyn Johnson at VideoInk.  

“Deals are announced that have zero follow up or accountability on performance;

--ad-supported digital video businesses have yet to see a significant ‘breakout hit’;

--there still isn’t a strictly defined metric of what even classifies a ‘hit’;

-- the built-if-sold model isn’t viable for the long-haul; publishers, now reliant on subscription models, are no longer sellers but hybrid buyers and sellers; brands are increasingly becoming publishers.”

She concludes, “all of which raises the question — Do brands even need the media buying-against-programming aspect of the Newfronts, and do publishers need them back?”

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