Shorter NewFronts Highlight Bigger Content Players

WHY THIS MATTERS: As advertisers spend more on digital video, traditional TV companies are getting into the game to engage viewers and cash in. 

The Digital Content Newfronts run for just one week this year, but the message will be that more viewers are watching online or over-the-top on digital devices and bigger companies are creating programming for them.

Even as the amount of original programming on broadcast and cable networks grows, advertising spending on digital content is growing faster than on traditional TV.

Digital video ad revenue in the U.S. is expected to grow to $15.42 billion in 2018, up 23% from 2017, according to eMarketer. By 2021, digital video advertising will hit $22.18 billion, eMarketer forecasts. At that point, digital video will represent 17.2% of total digital ad spending, up from 16.9% in 2017.

[Taking a FutureFronts Approach to Advertising's Biggest Financial Commitment of the Year]

As the numbers indicate, the NewFronts are growing in importance to media buyers, many of whom now allocate ad dollars among not just TV networks but all video outlets.

“You look at the evolution of the NewFronts — when they started, it was more about putting some names with faces and putting them on the map,” said Mike Law executive VP, managing director, U.S. media investment at Amplifi, part of the Dentsu Aegis Networks. “You would spend a week or two at these presentations and there was no follow-up.”

Now, conversations are substantial. “The programming and data they’re putting out there is very relevant to the upfront negotiation process,” Law said. Deals are longerterm, and discussions involve how to be more creative with these platforms and how to connect to their data pipes and research infrastructure, as well as “how much money should we be spending in OTT versus digital video versus traditional TV.”

“Ten years ago, we were saying to clients you’re not paying enough attention to digital,” said Scott Donaton, global chief content officer at digital media agency DigitasLBi, one of the founders of the NewFronts. “Clearly, the NewFronts were a way to challenge the supremacy of television and say, ‘Hold on, there’s a lot going on in digital and before you go and spend all your money here, maybe you should at least consider this a little more closely.’ ”

[NewFronts Cut Back to One Week of Presentations]

That conversation has changed. “Now it’s, ‘You’re not paying enough attention to content, because there are a lot of really cool things being done in the content world that’s become the exploding area of marketing,’ ” Donaton said.

Law likes the new one-week schedule of presentations, compared to the two weeks of NewFronts in past years. “It’s more focused on a handful of partners,” Law said. “I think that’s definitely a good thing.”

Donaton agreed. “I think you were starting to get some marginal players frankly in the second week. It refocuses on the core companies that are truly committed to investing in this space in a real way and that will be here next year as well.”

Law said he expects topics that have bedeviled the digital world — data security, content safety, measurement and effectiveness — will be addressed throughout the week.

[Over-the-Top TV Viewing Up 114% in 1Q, Conviva Says]

“I don’t think it will be the highlight of the presentations, but we’ll recognize that these things are all critically important and we have to get it right,” Law said. “We have to be 100% compliant with brand safety, we have to be 100% compliant with data and data privacy. But there’s great content, and if we do those things right, we have the ability to give our brands really great opportunity.”

While digital video has some issues to address, traditional TV players are working to eliminate their own disadvantages in terms of measurement and advertising technology.

At the same time, they are taking an “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach by getting into the digital content business themselves. In addition to digital giants like YouTube, Twitter and Vice, NewFront attendees will hear presentations from units of The Walt Disney Co., Discovery Inc. and Viacom.

“There’s no doubt that more and more we’re headed towards a world where, especially for the Disneys, Viacoms, NBCUs of the world, you are just having one conversation with clients and it doesn’t so much matter the venue in which you’re having it,” Donaton said.

Here is a closer look at several NewFronts presenters’ plans.

Hulu: Meeting Expectations

A year ago, Hulu launched its new live, linear service during its NewFront presentation. This year, Hulu will feature “an emphasis on the fact that we’re growing smartly and sharply,” senior VP of advertising sales Peter Naylor said.

“People’s expectations for television have changed and we are meeting their expectations,” he said. Hulu represents “the best of TV in that it’s television content. We run :15s and :30s. Seventy-eight percent of the viewing is in the living room. But it’s digital and 100% of the viewing is through an IP address. Everything you can imagine doing in a browser space we can do in the TV space.”

Naylor sees the world of digital video getting increasingly professionalized.

“The marketers and their agencies are very discerning about where they place their dollars, more so than ever before,” he said. “So while there’s a lot of opportunity and the barriers to entry are lower than ever before, it’s still extraordinarily difficult to create compelling content to drive an audience in a way that is marketer- and advertiser-friendly.”

In addition to new programming, Naylor said Hulu will make more data announcements at its presentation. “Attribution for business outcomes is still going to be a big topic for us.”

YouTube: Adding the Human Touch

YouTube will also be emphasizing that the video world has changed.

Tara Walpert Levy, managing director of ads marketing at Google, pointed to a Nielsen report that almost half the U.S. population is difficult to reach via traditional TV.

With its watch time growing at a 30% clip, Levy said Google Preferred — the top-rated channels and shows that YouTube sells in the upfront — reaches about half of those folks.

New research for YouTube conducted by Ipsos found that viewers pay three times as much attention to an ad in online video than one on TV. They’re twice as likely to pay attention to an ad on YouTube than one on social media.

In its pitch, YouTube will also note that seven of 10 Google preferred campaigns produce lift in consideration.

Amid concerns that some advertisers have found their ads attached to questionable content on YouTube, Google Preferred content is being reviewed both by a stricter algorithm as well as by an actual human.

“Our upfront offering will not only be our most popular, but our most vetted content,” Levy said.

YouTube recently started allowing advertisers to use data from people searches and app use on Google to target campaigns.

Last year, YouTube introduced a first slate of originally produced ad supported content featuring big names including Kevin Hart and Demi Lovato. “We will announce a new slate on Thursday,” she said.

Twitter: Video to Talk About

Twitter is looking for drivers at its presentation.

While some clients are OK recycling media plans that have been used for five years, Twitter’s NewFront is exclusively for drivers, Matt Derella, global VP, revenue and content at Twitter, said. “They are looking ahead, understanding where younger, most influential consumers are investing their time and reshaping their media plan based on those changes,” he said.

“Last year, we shared a slate of 16 new programs at our very first NewFronts. By September, we saw so much advertiser interest that we green-lit all 16 of the shows we presented,” Derella said. “This was a huge accomplishment for us because, one, it validated that Twitter had something to contribute in this space.

“This year we’re going to show how our product is evolving to showcase premium, brand safe content paired with real-time conversation,” he added.

One interesting TV trend is that some of the most popular content is on platforms that are not ad-supported, Derella said. Twitter is finding ways to take advantage of the passion for shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones.

“Fans are talking about the show constantly, but especially before, during and after live airings,” he said. “Bill Simmons’ The Ringer took his Talk the Thrones show to Twitter, right after Game of Thrones, to give fans more conversation and content each week.”

Sports produces similar interest. “That’s why we’re so excited about this year’s World Cup, where thanks to our partnership in the U.S. with Fox Sports, fans will be able to see highlights of every single goal,” Derella said. “This is something that can only happen on Twitter, and there is a huge opportunity for advertisers to connect with consumers at that magical moment of receptivity.”

Viacom: Dawn of a Digital Day

While Viacom is holding dinners to acquaint media buyers with the new programming coming to its cable networks, a NewFront will introduce them to the Viacom Digital Network, formed last year.

“The focus of my team is really about developing original content and brand extensions that are designed to serve audience who are consuming lot of content on social and mobile platforms,” Viacom Digital Studios president Kelly Day said.

Day said she’s spent the last four months forming partnerships and developing shows for Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Viacom Digital Studios is working with the sales team from WhoSay, the influencer marketing company acquired in January by Viacom, which has experience in finding custom solutions for advertisers.

[Viacom to Produce More Shows in New Snapchat Deal]

Viacom Digital Studios will also work with the traditional Viacom sales team and the Advanced Advertising sales team, and it’s up for anything from creating commercials to creating in-store shopper activations, she said.

“I think people will be excited about what they see and I think they’ll be surprised at how much we’ve gotten done in the last five months,” she said.

Hank Green, the founder of Vidcon, also acquired by Viacom, will take the stage during the presentation. “He’s got a few things that he’s going to announce, which we’re pretty excited about,” Day said.

Meredith: It’s About Impact

Also introducing itself to the market is Meredith. It wasn’t at the NewFronts last year, but last November it agreed to acquire Time Inc., which was.

“We’ve been expanding our investment in outstanding high-quality brand-safe video programming,” said Andrew Snyder, recently named Meredith’s senior VP and head of video.

“We are really focused on driving impact,” he said. “We think about impact in two ways. On one side, it’s about impact with consumers. On the advertising side of the house, what matters most to our customers is scale, and together the new Meredith reaches over 170 million consumers. We reach 80% of millennial women.”

“We also produce content that demonstrates real engagement with consumers,” he said. “And as a result of those two things, advertising investments with Meredith outperformed the marketplace because of both the quality and the engagement that we’re able to generate through that scaled video production.”

Last week, Meredith introduced a show it produces for Twitter called The Chatter. It’s part of Meredith’s People TV franchise.

“The reason we’re producing a show specifically for Twitter is to capture that increased consumer interest in finding content across platforms and spending an increased percentage of their time with live video programming,” Snyder said.

In addition to new programming, Meredith is considering new ad formats in its content. “I just left a meeting about that. What I would tell you is you’ll have to come to the event to hear about that one. I expect that will be part of our presentation,” Snyder said.

Disney Digital Joins In

Two Disney units also have timeslots. ESPN is planning to discuss how sports is becoming a bigger part of the digital world. Also presenting is the Disney Digital Network.

“At Disney Digital Network’s NewFront, advertisers will hear how they can tap into Disney’s unparalleled stories to reach millennials with their marketing messages,” a spokesperson said. “Guests will also hear about new partnerships, new distribution channels, and more ways Disney Digital Network is expanding.”

A week after the NewFronts, beleaguered media buyers will be shuffling around Manhattan from Radio City to Carnegie Hall for the TV upfronts.

“I imagine you’ll hear the conventional broadcast and cable guys continue to talk about things like ad load and data,” Hulu’s Naylor said. “Ad load and data happen to be two of our strengths.”

“So when you talk about OpenAP” — the advanced advertising consortium formed by 21st Century Fox, Turner and Viacom, which NBCUniversal recently joined — “and the legacy guys locking arms around a new standard, that’s a nice step in the right direction,” Naylor added.

“But they can’t really come close to what we’re doing because 100% of our viewing is through an IP address, so 100% of our audience is addressable in a way that you just can’t do yet with conventional linear television.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.