Ideally, there’s a flurry of activity after new- front presentations, as publishers and ad- vertisers rush to sign deals. This year, there
was a flurry of activity before they even began.
That’s because several presenters who were
scheduled to give newfronts dropped out, and a
few others rushed to take their places. It wasn’t
quite what the Interactive Advertising Bureau
(IAB, the group that administers the 2-week newfront season) would have liked to have happen.
A little background: Modeled on TV upfronts,
newfronts are industry events when online publishers present their upcoming video series to
agencies and advertisers in hopes of getting ad
Newfronts provide a useful milestone to examine where the online video industry is at.
This year, it’s chaos, but that’s just a pivot, as
publishers learn what works and what doesn’t.
Some of the biggest video publishers around
were newfront no-shows this year. BuzzFeed,
Machinima, and Yahoo dropped out. StyleHaul
and Playboy didn’t return this year. NatGeo cancelled and instead held a combined TV and online “Future Front.” AOL and Fullscreen traded
a big showcase for quiet presentations with key
advertisers. Filling the void, a few newcomers
like Twitter and the BBC jumped into take empty slots on the schedule.
There’s a temptation to explain the flurry of
changes with a simple theory, and several media
sites have already done so. MediaPost blames
the rise in programmatic advertising: With automated systems handling much of the online video ad market, there isn’t as much need to woo
agencies. The Wall Street Journal says the problem is the lack of scarcity and urgency in online
video ad buying; it’s a different market than TV.
But there are clearly several factors at play
here. Both AOL and Yahoo are now owned by
Verizon, grouped under a new division called
Oath. That made newfront season the wrong
time for a big splashy show. Only at Cannes
Lions in June did Tim Armstrong, Oath’s CEO,
formally unveil the company, stating its mission
to have a pool of 2 billion viewers by 2020 and
positioning its 50-some properties as an alternative to You Tube and Facebook.
Programmatic ad buying is certainly a part
of it. Buying hot shows is a necessity on TV, but
online advertisers more often chase a demographic than a specific show.
But I think the biggest reason is a shift in our
understanding of what works in online video.
In the early newfronts, online was a way for TV
stars to find a home for pet projects. AOL and
Yahoo! dazzled buyers with celeb-filled presen-
tations. But that TV way of thinking didn’t trans-
late to online viewers who are younger and pre-
fer to find their own, more authentic stars. Many
series announced at previous newfronts never
got made because of a lack of sponsorships.
The industry is a little older now, and a lot
wiser. When people stream video to their TVs,
they mostly stream from Netflix, Hulu, and Am-
azon. That’s good news for Hulu, the only one of
those three to take ads. On mobile and desktop,
people like fun, snackable videos that friends
have recommended, which is why Facebook is
such a video success. What people don’t watch
are online series from publishers.
Experienced online publishers have pivoted to snackable content, and they don’t need a
newfront to present it. They’re targeting teens
and tweens, the only audience that seems to
matter to buyers. Social platforms are grabbing
distribution rights for any sports leagues they
can, no matter how niche.
Smaller publishers still focus on online se-
ries, but they’ll learn what the bigger sites have
already figured out. This year, every newfront
presenter highlighted that it was brand-safe,
a lowest-common-denominator approach that
simply means “proximity to our content won’t
actively hurt your brand.”
It’s a transitionary time and it’s not over yet.
Advertisers will pay attention to see what peo-
ple actually watch and what’s just hype. But
what they really want is for Netflix to create a
lower-cost tier with ads. Now that’s a newfront
presentation they’d love to attend.
Troy Dreier ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior associate
editor of Streaming Media and Onlinevideo.net.
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Content Companies Take a
Hard Pivot at 2017 Newfronts