NewFronts 2014 – A glimpse the best online video has to offer

In the world of American television, May marks the beginning of the Upfront season. An upfront is a meeting hosted by a major television network to unveil its programming for the next year. One after the other, TV channels present their new shows, pilots, series that have been renewed and those that have been cancelled. This allows Madison Avenue advertisers to prepare their strategies accordingly.

Although this practice has existed since decades, new meetings known as Digital Content NewFronts have begun appearing in the past few years. NewFronts presentations are hosted by “non-traditional” networks—usually web-based—such as YouTube, Yahoo and Hulu. However, other players such as the New York Times and National Geographic have also hosted NewFronts this year.

Web banners use these meetings not only to unveil new content, but also to discuss their strategy, growth and profits—an aspect intimately linked to advertising investments.

The first NewFronts presentations were hosted two years ago but generated interest from only a handful of trendsetters. Although the advertising industry was initially sceptical over the opportunities offered by web-based audiovisual content, today’s phenomenal growth registered by online video viewing leaves no room for doubt as to the relevance of NewFronts presentations.

Certain brands are still hesitant to invest in web productions and still doubt their effectiveness to engage viewers on the long term. In 2014, the various NewFronts presenters did all they could to convince them otherwise.

Yahoo: Original content, content marketing and data processing

“We are not a portal for reading your emails. We are a collection of high-calibre content creators,” stated Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, during her announcement of the group’s first two original series (Other Space and Sin City Saints). The stated goal is to catch up to the web’s major players the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon which already produce exclusive series to attract and retain subscribers.

Eight episodes of each series will be produced and broadcast on Yahoo Screen at the beginning of 2015. It is well documented that this method of distribution encourages binge viewing among TV series aficionados. Other Space and Sin City Saints will be available through the new Yahoo Screen app for Roku and Apple TV.

Apart from these two new series, Yahoo also announced its partnership with Live Nation, the world’s largest live music video producer (60 million views in 2013). Starting this summer, Yahoo will broadcast in streaming format a live concert on its new Live Nation chain each and every evening. The content will also incorporate 300 behind-the-scenes interviews with musicians. Kellogg’s will sponsor these interviews.

Yahoo also wants to do as others have done and position itself to process its visitors’ data to help advertisers better reach their target markets. Yahoo is also seeking to meet the demands of clients who want to be able to use a single tool to measure the impact of the content marketing campaigns that are today incorporated in multiple platforms. To be able to generate such reports, Yahoo joined forces with Comscore (as competitor AOL did with Nielsen).

YouTube: Providing higher quality advertising space

YouTube took advantage of its Brandcast presentation to advertisers to reposition its advertising strategy. Indeed, Mashable explained this past week that the platform made certain advertisers uncomfortable because they feared that viewers would associate their brand with content of mediocre quality.

From now on, advertising on YouTube will be associated with the Google Preferred tool. This tool will select 5% of better-quality content and set it aside for large-scale advertising campaigns. This will guarantee “better” quality to viewers.

To identify this quality content, YouTube will therefore need to undertake a curation and “editorialization” of its content to present the best of its shows, channels and YouTubers to its advertisers.

Moreover, this new approach explains the presence of Bethany Motta, a 18-year old YouTuber who truly stole the show during the Brandcast evening. Motta made herself known by producing hauling videos and giving fashion tips from her bedroom. Today, she has more than 6 million followers.

Xbox: Going beyond gaming

For its second NewFronts, Xbox emphasized the development of the Xbox Entertainment Studio. This department was created in 2012 to provide premium interactive video content to the Xbox Live platform.

The Xbox Entertainment Studio produces content called “Xbox originals,” sort of interactive extensions of the gaming environment. Unfortunately though, fans were unable to discover the first images of the highly awaited Halo series (a Steven Spielberg production). However, Xbox did showcase the intriguing interactive film Possibilia which allows the viewer to influence a struggling couple’s destiny.

Ten times bigger than CNN?

Among other banners that wanted to stand out during these NewFronts presentations, Vevo announced the upcoming distribution of nine new short music and fashion films developed to inject life into its music catalogue. As for AOL, it chose to renew only 4 of its 15 new formats announced at their previous NewFronts presentations. This may point to a possible saturation of the market.

Curiously, after 126 years in existence, National Geographic still finds ways to reinvent itself. (As proof, it registered 685 million views on YouTube and Hulu last year.) It has announced the launch of nine shows entirely broadcast online.

Vice and the New York Times as well as Buzzfeed also took part—to a lesser extent—in the event and announced online video production investments. Never at a lack of hyperboles, Vice’s CEO, Shane Smith, announced that his partnership with YouTube would enable Vice to become ten times bigger than CNN.

However, Shane Smith will have to wait a little. Indeed, according to the New York Times, although advertising departments are spending more and more on digital video and that growth is outpacing that of television advertising, television still to this day accounts for the lion’s share. Forbes is even more harsh and claims that the money spent on digital marketing is still at the charity stage compared to television, where the real dollars are. This statement may remain true today, but the curiosity and enthusiasm that the Digital Content NewFronts 2014 have managed to generate may be precursors to a rapidly evolving situation.

Fabien Loszach
Fabien Loszach holds a doctorate in sociology specialized in social imagery, art and pop culture. He works for the Brad agency as its director of interactive strategy and as a consultant in the media and digital fields. Furthermore, he contributes as a commentator to the digital culture show La sphère broadcast on Ici Radio-Canada Première. Each week, he discusses a current issue from a sociological perspective.
Read Bio