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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

5 big takeaways from the NewFronts West

October 18, 2018 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift@mediatwit

The Upfronts in New York were always about making big advertising deals before the TV season kicked off. Then came the NewFronts, which focused on digital offerings and innovative formats. Now comes the NewFronts West, an extension of the NewFronts that took place in Los Angeles this month, and which have evolved even further from the original Upfronts. Gone was the talk of making big ad deals. In its place was discussion of new platforms, new formats, and new ways to reach younger audiences with influencers, podcasts and, of course, online video.

In short, the personality and networking surrounding this event fits in perfectly with the ethos of Silicon Valley and Hollywood, the major West Coast hubs that have insinuated themselves into the ad market like never before.

Here are five big takeaways from the inaugural edition of the NewFronts West:

1. Big Ad Deals Take a Back Seat to Relationships and Emerging Models

Closing major ad sales was hardly the focus at this event. One reason is was that  it took place outside of the traditional media buying season. Also, because there was a mix of digital-only and legacy media publishers, it offered a chance for all parties to stand out with new types of offerings.

In fact, it was the kind of space  where people new to the game could come in and introduce themselves. And it was a chance to think less about traditional models of advertising and more about emerging prototypes that are just beginning to gain traction, like branded content, custom sponsorships and opportunities for publishers within Instagram’s IGTV. These avenues are especially interesting to advertising execs as ad-free platforms take hold and audiences become more and more fragmented.

Even the New York Times, one of the more well-known heavy hitters at the event, saw the NewFronts West less as a space to close deals and more as a brand marketing opportunity to talk to people about how the Times works with advertisers. In this way, the event was much more future-focused. The hope, it seemed, was that building relationships now would reap benefits down the line.

2. Podcasts Are Not Slowing Down

Podcasts have exploded over the past few years, with nearly every publisher producing some or at least considering them. But after BuzzFeed and Slate’s Panoply cut back on offerings, it was easy to think that perhaps the hype had gone too far. Judging by the NewFronts West, those cutbacks might only be a hiccup.

The Los Angeles Times, Gallery Media Group and Ellen Digital all announced new podcasts. The L.A Times announced new podcasts about a drag racer, “Big Willie,” and a reporter’s search for a hospital patient called “Room 20,” following in the footsteps of its popular “Dirty John” podcast co-produced with Wondery.

Podcasts have always been favored for the intimacy that voice offers, but a compelling host is also arguably the best brand influencer for an audience. With 92% of consumers leaning toward product recommendations, according to a FameBit presentation, podcasts are a more personal way for hosts to promote products.

3. Vice Media’s Brand Safety Splash

While there have been a lot of efforts around promoting brand safety for advertisers, Vice Media made a big splash at the NewFronts West by countering widespread use of keyword blocking by pushing a more contextual approach from Oracle Data Cloud.

Vice executives released the findings of an 18-month long study abut keyword blacklists, which are meant to flag potentially objectionable content for advertisers. Turns out they place LGBTQIA-related keywords high on the list, including “gay,” “transgender” and “bisexual.” The study also found that the keywords “Asian,” “Muslim,” and “interracial” also appear at the top of these blacklists.

For a media brand that prides itself on diverse and inclusive programming (as its executives said), Vice’s announcement made a big statement. Vice then said it would be testing Oracle Data Cloud’s contextual brand safety solution, which offers deeper analysis and scores content based on its storytelling context. They also called for other publishers to follow suit. Now we’ll have to see if Oracle Data Cloud stands up to its reputation.

4. Advertisers Will Have to Work Harder to Reach Audiences

Part of why the West Coast’s approach to the NewFronts is so attractive is that advertisers have realized they have to work much harder to secure the attention of their audiences. Thus, they’re more willing to try new platforms and experiment with techniques that are still nascent like Alexa skills, brand-sponsored podcasts or e-commerce enabled videos. Platforms like Netflix and HBO have made commercial-free viewing experiences de rigeur, and readers on the internet can also easily block ads they don’t want to see.

What to do? Create advertising that consumers can’t not pay attention to is the answer. Advertising executives are anticipating that the traditional model of advertising will evaporate sooner rather than later. So, they’re trying to stay ahead of the curve for their own survival and efficiency. That’s a no-brainer. Having influencers on IGTV or other social platforms pitching products for them has become one way to do that.

5. Snapchat Pushes More Scripted Shows

As Facebook has struggled with battles against misinformation (and lost data), Snapchat continues to move forward with its own programming. At NewFronts West, the L.A.-based social app announced a host of new serialized, scripted shows for the launch of what it’s calling Snapchat Originals. It feels a little bit like Netflix’s foray into originals, except the projects will be shot in a vertical format and feature six-second unstoppable ads. It’s definitely a big endeavor, and one to watch – even if it means that other tech giants may want to, ahem, copy this strategy as well (looking at you, IGTV).

The bottom line coming out of this year’s NewFronts West is that it’s much more important to be strategic about new advertising models and partnerships than it is to partner with name-brand entities and existing prototypes. While tried-and-true advertising formats may sound good in theory and work for the time being, they may not be viable in the future. This event gave publishers a chance to zero in on those emerging ideas. If an event like the NewFronts West can continue to present itself as the more future-forward alternative to the East Coast’s spring NewFronts — and reiterate the fact that not all agencies and ad shops are in New York — it has the chance to develop an even larger following for future shows.

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