7 Questions Hovering Over The NewFronts
The NewFronts are here, whether you’re ready or not. Some 34 companies ranging from Yahoo to YouTube to Whistle Sports to PlayStation will host elaborate ad sales presentations over the next 10 days (along with fancy booze-and-shrimp dinners), looking to capture advertisers’ attention and dollars.
The annual confab has grown from a standalone day of presentations hosted by a single ad agency (Digitas). This is the fourth straight year that top digital media companies will line up in an attempt to mimic the TV “upfront” selling season. It’s ironic, of course, since TV networks spend a lot of time these days wondering how to get more Web mojo.
Given the number of participating companies, and people flooding New York to attend (AOL expects 800 people tomorrow night), there’s no question the NewFronts have become a marquee event on the ad industry’s calendar. But there are still some pressing questions:
Is there really a NewFront ad market? Will any advertisers actually lock up deals right away, like they do in TV?
“Historically, zero to very little money changes hands,” said John Nitti, chief investment officer at ZenithOptimedia Group. “Maybe you’ll see a show or two locked up, but I don’t think a massive dollar amount will be spent. We hear clients every day moan about wanting more flexibility, not less. They are trying to get out of the TV upfront when they can.”
Is there any urgent must-buy in Web video?
Yes: TV content on the Web. Advertisers love that, and there is only so much of it.
“There is lots of made-for-TV content being consumed digitally. There is not much supply of that and that’s where you need to hurry up, in my mind,” said Donald Williams, chief digital officer at Horizon Media. “This year, we’re preparing for relatively groundbreaking discussions [during the upfronts]. We want to negotiate with a digital-driven, platform-driven approach.”
If there is a trend this year, it may be that ad buyers are more intrigued by digital platforms and scale rather than individual Web shows. That begs the question of whether the show-focused strategy employed by many of the top digital media presenters makes sense.What about original Web series? Do they really have a shot at pulling ad money away from TV network shows?
“The NewFronts mirror the upfronts in that these companies are saying, ‘here’s our programming lineup, our shows,” said Shelby Saville, executive vice president and managing director of digital at the media agency Spark. “What holds it back is scale. If I see this show and I love it, I need to compare it to other things…we have a lot of those options on television.”
Or, as one top ad buyer explained it, platforms like Facebook and YouTube are so big they overwhelm any individual Web series.
Do the digital-first companies promote their shows enough?
No. A group of top ad buyers openly complained about this a few years ago in a letter to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Many still grumble that Web companies don’t market like their TV brethren. YouTube is a big exception, and AOL has started promoting some shows with subway ads in New York.
Have any shows worked out?
According to Aaron Perlstein, head of broadcast for the agency Ikon3, Crackle’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is the closest thing to a cultural breakout. But overall, “too date there haven’t been any big hit series which makes judging new [digital] series very difficult. In fact, the ‘Serial’ podcast had more cultural resonance than any Web series coming out of the NewFronts to date.”
Added Ms. Seville: “I’ve never seen a NewFront show.”
If original Web shows aren’t hits, what is?
“The conversation has shifted toward the next generation of talent and their ability to engage with and influence audiences,” said David Anderson, senior vice president at MediaLink.”It’s no longer just about traditional celebrities moving over to digital.”
In a word, digital influencers are the hit shows. And this NewFront season, buyers may be weighing choosing between outlets that have “shows” versus outlets that have “people with monster social followings.”
So that’s probably good news for YouTube, and the many multichannel networks hosting NewFronts this year, right?