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Big Screens Are Back, Baby

Family watching TV
(Image credit: FreePik)

It’s a mark of how much has changed with the NewFronts, the tech-savvy younger sibling of the traditional TV’s Upfronts, that so many of the new shows on display across four days of presentations last week are headed to the biggest screens out there. 

Not just any big screens, of course. We’re talking connected TVs, highly capable internet devices that millions of owners seemingly rediscovered during months of lockdowns, and used heavily to access not just a charging phalanx of glitzy new SVOD services, but all kinds of other video offerings, too. 

Now, all the digital companies that once used the NewFronts as a long-shot grab for attention from advertisers still focused on traditional broadcast and cable TV are increasingly making original programs that advertisers may actually support, in formats they mostly recognize. 

Big screens are back, even among the online companies long focused on browsers and mobile devices. That even includes traditional print publishers such as Meredith, Condé Nast and Penske Media, text-first platforms such as Twitter, and hardware makers such as Vizio and Roku

"We own the hardware, the operating system, and the data flowing through our system. We believe that's a big advantage," said Vizio Chief Revenue Officer Mike O’Donnell, pointing to the TV maker’s SmartCast operating system, automatic-content-recognition capabilities, Inscape data division, and 12 million users.

It says something that hardware makers—at least those like Vizio and Roku that control which networks get on their platforms and also run their own AVOD channels—are now at the NewFronts. It’s another example of the event’s changing face, in step with what’s happening across the TV business.

But it wasn’t just hardware companies making big presentations. Condé Nast—home to iconic print magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker—pitched itself as a growing video powerhouse, with 50 new series tied to its various franchises, atop 75 shows it already creates for an array of outlets. 

For some companies, the shift to Connected TVs has been even more dramatic. Jesse Judelman, who heads sales in the Americas for Vevo, told me recently his company's revenue growth recently went from 4% before the pandemic to more than 50% since.  

And YouTube, a minority partner in Vevo, has seen its overall viewership overtake even long-time champ Netflix, according to one recent study its executives touted multiple times during NewFronts. More importantly for YouTube’s NewFronts pitch, only two of the five companies that serve up 80% of internet video traffic are ad-supported, and Hulu is a lot smaller. 

YouTube’s connected TV viewership leapt to 120 million viewers last year, said Google VP and General Manager Tara Walpert Levy during a Day 2 panel. That’s a shift for an old-school digital-media power long associated with viewers on computers, tablets and mobile phones. 

"All the ways we do marketing really found their feet last year," Walpert Levy said.

Companies such as NBCUniversal are working both sides of the increasingly blurry line between Upfront World and NewFront Land, presenting at both and partnering with Twitter on Olympics and other programming. Increasingly, what everyone is pitching looks like smarter versions of old-school television.

Also read: NewFronts Speakers See Channels Changing From Traditional TV 

And of course, where the eyeballs go, the advertisers follow, sooner or later. NewFronts sponsor IAB released stats showing ad revenues on connected TVs jumped 22% in the past year. 

Oh, sure, Snapchat and especially TikTok focused on their vertical-aspect, mobile-only shows rather than big screens, both originals and from brand-safe vetted creators. Both had entertaining presentations overstuffed with creator cameos, including a performance by singer Lubalin saying “Don’t make ads. Make TIkToks instead.” 

They’ll both grab plenty of ad dollars this year, Wall Street analysts expect. But big screens are having their time, again, though with more smarts than ever. 

"As an advertiser that's built a lot of our brands on traditional linear TV, we also know that that's a medium that's not growing any longer," said Zena Srivatsa Arnold, Kimberley-Clark's global chief digital and marketing officer, who took part in YouTube's Brandcast. "We want to be where the consumers are. That giant screen on your wall isn't going away. In fact, consumers are using it more and more."

Yes indeed. And that’s good news for all the media companies headed back to the future, with big screens hiding even bigger brains.