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Platforms, Programming Blur at NewFronts

It was clear at the NewFronts in New York last week that as TV becomes more mobile and on-demand, the gap between traditional and digital video is shrinking.

Viacom officials were showing off social versions of shows from MTV and Comedy Central while Twitter was announcing deals to stream content from NBCUniversal, ESPN and the NBA. The quest to capture viewers in the mobile generation is creating strange business bedfellows.

Ad dollars are following viewers online, and media buyers at the NewFronts were presented with tons of opportunities to use digital to reach viewers as TV ratings shrink. “It was a lot of content,” said Francoise Lee, executive vice president and investment director at Assembly.

Compressed from two weeks to one this year, the NewFronts were more focused, Lee noted. “The message is, the gap is closing between traditional programmers and digital media companies,” he said.

Where TV and digital are converging is in the connected TV space, and Lee is advising clients to increase their investment there.

Related: Disney Lights Up Advanced Ad Suite

Also blurring the line between TV and digital was YouTube, which held its Brandcast event at Radio City Music Hall, the same venue where NBCUniversal will start the broadcast week of upfront presentations on May 14. There are issues that could slow the flow of ad dollars to digital video, and most of the big players addressed brand safety, fraud and transparency.

“We committed to having over 10,000 people across Google by end of year to address violative content,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said. “We instituted human reviews on Google Preferred, so that you can all trust that every video your ad runs on has been verified to meet advertiser-friendly guidelines.”

Twitter’s Matthew Derella, global vice president for revenue and content, announced 30 content partnerships, but noted that when he talks to top marketers, he hears “frustration with the issues that plague our industry.” He said Twitter was addressing them.

“Tonight we say goodbye to unsafe brand environments, we say goodbye to insufficient measurement transparency, we say goodbye to a digital marketplace that’s overly concentrated,” Derella said. “And we say goodbye to media plays that are shackled to the past. And we say hello to you being in control of [what] your video aligns with. We say hello to a higher measure of transparency, we say hello to new premium inventory and a break from the same old choices. And we say hello to the most valuable audiences when they’re most receptive.”

Two days later, Derella was onstage again, during ESPN’s presentation, talking about a version of SportsCenter ESPN is creating for Twitter — illustrating how important it is for even the most powerful brands to reach viewers on new platforms and to compete in digital and social.

“We need The Walt Disney Co. to continue to engage on the platform where [viewers] choose to spend their time,” Disney/ABC Ad Sales president Rita Ferro said at the Disney Digital Networks NewFront.