NewFronts: Virtual Reality, BuzzFeed Reality And Gender Equality

Notes from the NewFronts:

The New York Times has published a daily newspaper on most days it’s existed since September 1851 so it can’t be that much of a realization there’s a future in “storytelling” but that was the message at its NewFronts presentation.  

The big emphasis is on visual stories, and It’s big push is to tell many of those stories via virtual reality projects. indeed New York Times Magazine Editor Jake Silverstein said the Times is “the leader in virtual reality journalism.” (From an early read on this year’s NewFronts, everybody else in the business just joined the race, too.)

For two years in a row, its NewFronts presentation ended with audience members peering through Google Cardboards at Times VR projects; last year it was the street scene around the Flatiron Building; this year it was the gases seen around Pluto from an upcoming VR project.

All things visual obviously matters; the Times says 40% of its video traffic is made up of millennials, and that’s the audience the Times and everybody else wants to capture. The Times announced six new video projects, ranging from “The Fine Line” that dives deep into what physiological traits and techniques makes Olympic athletes great to the “The Inside Track: Making of Tomorrow’s Hits” that will show how hit music is made, step-by-step. Reporter Charles Duhigg’s “The Art of Better” also looks at how productivity “happens.”

But VR was the star. The Times Magazine will turn its annual Voyages issue into an episodic VR series and T Magazine will debut its first VR film this fall.

The Times also rebranded its R&D Lab as something called Story[X], that will use designers and developers to experiment with “news, product and advertising cycles” to help create new communications (and advertising) vehicles, working with its T Brand Studio.

Part of the fun of a the Times NewFront is watching execs talk about advertising projects and putting high-sheen purpose to them. As one exec noted from stage, digital is the first medium without a defined ad format--like TV’s commercial breaks, or print’s ad well--and the Times invited advertisers to help them exploit that vast territory.

In fact, that “help us help you” idea got airtime at various NewFront, as if digital content creators have come to grips with the idea that advertisers’ branding strategies might work just as well as publishers’ ideas, and maybe come together quicker.

Similar to T Brand Studio and Story [X}, Bloomberg Media introduced Kinection, a branded-content studio aimed at creating custom content on a global basis.

Bloomberg was full of high-mindedness at its NewFronts; it was actually pleasant to see a content creator stand up straight to emphasize its stature rather than slouch to soften it.  It announced a “Walk The Talk” series  and a Gender Equality Index that will look at female leadership in the C-Suites, with help from Shelley Zalis,founder of The Girls Lounge.

Bloomberg will also debut “Big Problems. Big Thinkers,” sponsored by Cisco  that will feature appearances by Wall Street and business titans (Warren Buffett, director director Steven Soderbergh, and more, including Founder Mike) defining critical issues of the day and prescriptions.

Maybe it was because I had just left the BuzzFeed NewFronts presentation, but Bloomberg’s ideas seemed so grown up. Not to knock BuzzFeed for its casual, pop-culture flavor--that’s why it’s there--but the contrast is vivid.  For me, most illuminating was BuzzFeed’s Frank Cooper, chief marketing and creative officer, explaining the way culture now works.  

Using Motown stars as an example, he noted how once, minority artists became popular by mimicking the mainstream ideal. So, in short, Motown stars got all dressed up.

By contrast, Public Enemy became superstars and changed culture by emphasizing the rougher, tougher, street-wise  “authentic” life of minority America.

Using a chart, he said, it is now commonplace for popular artists to take their authentic self outward where it radiates out to become mainstream, rather than the other way around. It is, he implied, what makes stars out of YouTubers.

This, in Cooper’s view, is BuzzFeed all over, and an explanation why younger viewers find it harder to buy in to traditional media, and why, when BuzzFeed creates videos like  “Weird Things All Couples Fight About” it’s coming from an experiential level your average sitcom can’t approach.

But maybe you had to be there.

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