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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Are the NewFronts still worth it? That depends

May 4, 2017 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

When Digitas started the NewFronts in 2008, it convinced the world that digital upstarts needed their own version of television’s glitzy Upfronts was a necessity. The agenda was also fairly straightforward: “Build a marketplace for showcasing high-quality creators and distributors of video at scale,” as co-creator John McCarus said in a recent interview with Tubefilter’s Sam Gutelle.

Five years after the IAB took over its stewardship, though, many are questioning the worth of the two week dog-and-pony show taking place these first two weeks of May. But if the evolution of the advertising industry — and the individual circumstances of different publishers — suggest anything, it’s that there really isn’t a blanket consensus on the NewFronts, except that it makes the most sense for those who need a boost or have the money to mount something eye-catching.

In and Out, and Changing Tactics

The dropouts and withdrawals at this year’s NewFronts ignited chatter that the NewFronts were losing relevance. Among those dropouts: BuzzFeed, Yahoo, Stylehaul, Studio71, National Geographic and Machinima (now owned by Warner Bros.).

Some, though, aren’t leaving the buyer presentation completely. However, they are changing their tactics and opting for lower-key events. The web video firm Fullscreen, for example, will host a series of small presentations with agencies instead of a large panel, as will Yahoo (which is currently being acquired by Verizon) and new corporate sibling AOL, which was once a headliner. BuzzFeed too, will host its own event for advertisers, and Studio71 backed out of its New York live event and is now going to stream a 15-minute presentation (and will donate money saved to a charity).

Still, NewFront newcomers like Twitter, BBC.com, Group Nine Media and Uproxx, a digital media company focused on millennial males, are jumping into the fray. And IAB senior vice president Anna Baker insists this year will attract record attendance, topping last year’s 16,000 attendees.

Goal Reached?

One way to view this opt-in, opt-out trend is from the perspective of worth. The NewFronts have become enormously expensive and cluttered. So it makes sense why some companies might prefer to do something smaller, where they can insist on undivided — rather than distracted — attention. Another viewpoint is that the demand to educate about the urgency of digital is, well, just not that urgent anymore. With eMarketer’s forecast that advertisers will spend $11.7 billion on online video this year, it’s obvious that marketers know where they should focus interest. The competition and conglomeration of YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat on online video advertising is also routinely drawing attention to this goal.

Indeed, another way to view the more personalized approach of some companies is that it’s a reflection of the maturation of the industry. This is particularly true as digital video becomes more fragmented and thus necessitates more one-on-one attention. With programmatic buying becoming more common, it also means that this big annual event is not as important because so much buying happens on a regular basis throughout the year.

The Brand Perspective

Obviously, different publishers have different levels of urgency in appealing to marketers. But much of the decision around this boils down to brand, and which one — and what aspect of their identity — stands to benefit from being featured at the NewFronts.

Take Twitter. The company has had a roller-coaster of a time growing its user base and showcasing its utility as an actual ad-supported business. But it also recently announced a partnership with Bloomberg to stream its own 24/7 news service — and a major push into streaming video since its NFL streaming deal last year ended. Needless to say, Twitter has a lot at stake going into this year’s NewFronts as it pivots more heavily into streaming video.

Yet as NewFronts co-founder John McCarus acknowledged in his TubeFilter interview, the focus on the show around interruptive video advertising misses the massive growth of an important upstart in video: branded content. That could be a big reason why both Fullscreen and BuzzFeed have lowered their commitment, for example. Their general manager and senior vice president of marketing, respectively, both essentially stated their companies had outgrown the current format of the NewFronts.

So What’s the Value?

Still, for all the debate on the NewFronts’ value, there’s still a very important overarching goal for publishers – especially given the 2016 U.S. election and scrutiny on fake news and objectionable content – and that’s to tout their brand safety. The New York Times, for instance, will take advantage of the thousands in attendance to host a live podcast and basically, promote Times’ quality and not edgy technology.

For some publishers, at least, the evolving advertising marketplace requires not just thinking about digital video, but the revolution taking place at multiple places in the industry. Let’s think of the NewFronts as less of a who’s who in popularity or recognition, and more as a “graduate school” for those looking to step in and reinforce their education in the business. No one in any industry would say that’s a bad thing.

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