Editor's Note: After declining to comment on why it won't be part of this year's IAB NewFronts, Digitas informed MediaPost it will instead hold a private, client-only meeting on May 5 in an undisclosed location. An agency spokesperson declined to comment further. A separate story has been published here.
Fifteen years after conceiving it, Publicis' Digitas unit is no longer part of the newfronts -- at least not for this year.
Digitas -- which launched its own homegrown "NewFront" showcase in 2008 as a platform for organizing the burgeoning marketplace of new and emerging digital content players -- turned it over to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in 2012, which hosted its first Digital Content Newfronts in April 2013.
But following years of participating in the IAB's annual official newfronts agenda, Digitas is missing from it this year.
Asked by MediaPost why Digitas isn't on its official agenda, and whether it might be conducting a newfront presentation of its own, an IAB spokesperson said: "IAB can only speak to the official lineup."
"We don't have any comment at this time," a Digitas spokesperson added.
The omission is odd, given the seminal and continuing role Digitas played in spawning the newfronts -- which by some accounts have preempted the TV networks' historic upfronts, at least in terms of industry mindshare, if not actual media spending.
Following its first-ever but largely internal NewFront in 2008, Digitas opened it up publicly in 2009, making it part of of that year's "Internet Week New York" lineup, hosting a panel discussion debating "the evolution of the digital content marketplace."
The session features former Vice President and then Current TV founder Al Gore, comedian Tom Green, actors Faith Ford, Justine Bateman and Milo Ventimiglia, as well as celebrity chef Paula Deen.
Two years later, Digitas credited Deen with helping to "concept" its Gold Effie award-winning "Real Women of Philadelphia" campaign for the Kraft cream cheese brand, based on her discussion of the "importance of original online content" during the day-long, live-streamed event. It also touted its fourth annual NewFront as the "ad industry's premier brand content event."
In 2012, Digitas began repositioning its NewFront from a digital thought leader discussion to more of a conventional vendor showcase in the model of the network upfront, rebranding it as the "Digital Content NewFronts (#DCNF)" and unveiling a lineup of presenters including Hulu, Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo and Google/YouTube.
Weeks later, NBCUniversal -- one of the most conventional traditional network TV upfront players -- announced it was joining the Digital Content NewFront lineup
“We are excited to be the first major media and entertainment company with an expansive portfolio of content and distribution platforms – from digital to TV to a film studio and theme parks -- to join this inaugural event," NBCU sales chief Linda Yaccarino said during that announcement, adding, "which could not be happening at a more momentous time in the rapidly growing digital marketplace."
A year later, after Digitas turned the newfronts over to the IAB, NBCU unveiled its own "Digital.Amplified" event, officially emulating a stand-alone network TV-like upfront sales ad pitch for its digital assets.
"There’s great marketplace demand for things like high-quality original video and savvy ways to seamlessly weave messaging between linear and digital, and NBCUniversal is in the most advantageous position to easily deliver all of this and more,” NBCU's Yaccarino said in that announcement.
Despite having turned the newfronts over to the IAB as the official organizer, Digitas continued promoting its own, stand-alone NewFront in 2013, dropping the "Digital Content" prefix, but touting it as being "alive," and adding: "Discover what we mean when we say your brand is alive."
In what perhaps might be the height of Digitas' NewFront industry influence, the agency's 2013 event sparked an "industry call to arms" signed by then UM's David Cohen (now IAB chief), Starcom's Amanda Richman (recently stepped down from Mindshare), Carat's Walt Cheruk, GroupM's Rob Norman (retired), Zenith's John Nitti, OMD's Ben Winkler and Digitas's Adam Shlachter and John McCarus (the latter of whom former Digitas chief Colin Kinsella credits as originally conceiving the newfronts).
"With the close of the second annual Digital Content NewFronts, there are high expectations and a few critical questions to address. Can DCNF really create market-shaping brand opportunities? Have we overcome the barriers to closing the 'big deals?' Will we, and the rest of the buying community, put equitable skin in the game? The authors of this letter declare yes to all of the above, and for one reason: we must," the joint agency call read.
It goes on to make the case that the burgeoning digital video content marketplace should also be reaping the ad "dollars that it deserves."
In 2014, newly merged DigitasLBi became even more "fearless" in its approach to its NewFront, literally branding it that way.
In 2015, DigitasLBi became even more preachy about it, literally putting a live gospel on stage at its NewFront to promote an exclusive native content deal it struck with Vox Media.
In 2018, Digitas once again collaborated with the IAB to launch a "Digital Content NewFronts West" in Los Angeles, to tout the intersection of "Madison & Vine."
"The New York City NewFronts have always been a dynamic marketplace, showcasing how content creators are transforming the way brand stories are shaped and shared,” then Digitas Global Chief Content Officer Scott Donaton (now at Hulu) said in the announcement, emphasizing Digitas would be "the only advertising agency presenter."
By 2019, Digitas' presence in the newfronts was diminished to one of the many checkerboard presentation slots in the IAB's official New York event agenda, although a subsequent analysis by the IAB estimated brand marketers would spend $18 million on digital content that year -- thanks in large part to the newfronts concept that Digitas spearheaded.
In 2020, due to the social-distancing mandates of the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital content newfronts became entirely digital themselves.
By 2022, the newfronts went hybrid combining both in-person and digital streaming access, and the IAB also introduced an entirely virtual "Podcast Upfront" to its mix.
This year, the IAB continues to offer a hybrid newfronts option with about 30 individual company presentations, just not including Digitas among them.