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NewFronts OfferByte of the Familiar

The digital video NewFronts last week felt a lot like the television upfronts. There were TV stars, loud music, free drinks and lots of food—all aimed at moving some traditional ad dollars to a new media. And apparently, everybody found comfort in the familiar.

“It has exceeded even our wildest imagination in terms of the attendance, the enthusiasm of the agency buyers and the marketers, and the professionalism and seriousness and verve with which the publishers have put together their presentations,” said Randy Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which organized the NewFronts.

Rothenberg noted that the digital ad business has long been dominated by tech talk that either flies over the heads of buyers or is irrelevant to them. The progress toward finding better ways to talk to agencies and marketers “was just reinforced and underscored by this NewFront season,” he said.

For the agencies, “the major learning experience was a fuller picture of supply [of premium video] and a deeper understanding of digital distribution,” said John Nitti, president, activation at Zenith. “We see the ‘TV side’ recognizing and embracing their linear video count across all screens to capture full viewership, and the ‘digital side’ organizing their video content in a channel-like fashion to be ‘easier’ to buy more like ‘TV.’”

Veteran TV buyer Aaron Cohen, executive VP at Horizon Media, said digital video cannot be ignored. “Nothing has ever made an impact on traditional television as fast,” Cohen said. “You can’t turn your back on this.”

The IAB’s Rothenberg noted two themes that ran through the presentations. One was that big name creators said they could do things in the medium of digital video that they couldn’t do anywhere else. The other was that “there’s a honking big audience for it.”

Rothenberg noted it appeared that some deals were getting done, including AOL’s announcement that sponsorship of its new business shows had been bought out by agencies Digitas and Razorfish.

Just Getting Warmed Up

Rothenberg added that he expects the NewFronts to continue as an annual event, even as the lines between TV and online content merge. “Digital media can absolutely do different things than advertising in other media,” he said. “You can not only watch it and receive messages from it, but you can literally and physically reach into it, you can explore further into the ad, you can pull things out of the ad. And you can’t do that in other media.”

Not that the NewFronts got straight-As all around; some buyers saw ways things could be done better. “I would love for the next NewFronts to be less about ‘digital content’ vs. ‘TV content’ and more about the great video content each organization is bringing to the table for viewers and marketers to engage with,” said Zenith’s Nitti.

“Eventually it should all be one week of upfront presentations together [especially for the mega media companies such as CBS, NBC, Disney, etc.],” Nitti added. “But there is just not enough time in one week, which in my mind is a good thing.”

Horizon’s Cohen noted that the NewFronts put a big concentrated demand on buyers’ time too close to the insanity of the traditional TV upfront week and would work better at a different time. “Everybody wants a piece of everybody. It’s just becoming a little overwhelming,” he said.

Cohen also noted that the NewFront presentations looked a lot like upfront presentations, from the entertainment on stage to the fast-paced film clips. “I don’t know if there’s another way to do it, but the fact that they’ve mirrored the presentation formats of traditional television networks kind of amused me,” he said.

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