Media Planning & Buying

A Marketer’s Guide to the 2013 Digital Content NewFronts

May 7, 2013

Last week, members of the 360i team attended several events as part of the second annual Digital Content NewFronts. The NewFronts represent the digital version of the Upfronts that have long dominated the TV buying world, and were created to drum up interest in the digital video content available for complementing (and, in some cases, replacing) traditional broadcast content.

This post summarizes our collective learnings from the 2013 NewFronts. Similar to last year’s roundup, we’ll dive into the key themes that emerged, and share what they mean for marketers. We’ll also highlight a few content pieces that caught our eye over the course of the week.

The maturation of the NewFronts – now in their second year – brought three new themes of note:

  1. Partnerships & technological enhancements were prominent. This year, several publishers and platforms sought out external partnerships to enhance their content portfolio, while others locked in third-party distribution avenues for their homegrown content. At the YouTube upfront, AwesomenessTV was featured as a channel that is focused on programming for the teen/tween crowd. After showcasing pieces from the channel, it was announced that they were acquired by DreamWorks, which will likely further increase their popularity and visibility. On the tech front, Hulu promised to enhance its platform to help viewers better engage with content.
  2. There was an increased focus on diversity and breadth of content. Many publishers showcased digital’s capacity to find a home – and an audience – for unique video content, that otherwise might not have made it in primetime. They emphasized the creative openness of the digital space (with creators frequently citing their decision to go digital explicitly so they can maintain the integrity of their vision). Moreover, a large number of documentary-style programming is set to hit the digital video market, which seems in tune with this focus on authentic content with a unique point of view.
  3. Connected, cross-device viewing emerged as core to digital content. Perhaps the greatest advantage of digital video content is its ability to build passionate fan bases that can now watch videos from virtually anywhere – from on their desktops to mobile, on gaming consoles, tablets and more. As Hulu noted: “digital video is available to consumers when, where and how they want it.”
    In the same vein with this trend, MSN is exploring a partnership with Nielsen Ratings to further test how video complements TV, and will be unveiling a new XBOX interface later this month that will enhance TV-streaming abilities. Social co-viewing was also a prominent theme, as Hulu unveiled social watching options that incorporate online chatter directly within the TV environment as well as Hulu clips that can be displayed directly in Twitter feeds.

Key Implications for Marketers

  • Expanding the definitions of what qualifies for a NewFront: From Yahoo! introducing its new in-stream ad unit, and niche entries to this year’s NewFronts schedule in the form of gaming giant Zynga, and even a pending mobile upfront event being held later in May – marketers can expect to see these types of intensive content reveal/appeal events continue to gain popularity. It may very well be commonplace to see broad forms of digital media become part of this landscape.
  • Democratization of NewFront packages: Last year, there was a collective sigh amongst marketers interested in certain YouTube channel blocks when they learned that other brands had already locked in the lion’s share of inventory for the year. YouTube responded to marketers’ concerns and revised its approach to offer more limited and confined content packages, making their content more accessible to the masses. For the NewFronts to have widespread success, offerings must appeal to both deep-pocketed marketers as well as the long tail. We saw other NewFront players address this as well through their promotion of extremely niche content (e.g. extreme sports and MSN’s electronic dance packages).
  • It’s not about being better than TV; it’s about being different: A palpably more confident NewFronts took place this year – though we did see the occasional reference to the scalability of NewFront environments as compared to TV (i.e. YouTube reaching the 1 billion user mark), as well as some delicate comments around not wanting to steal from TV, but rather to complement it.
    That being said, the more pervasive feeling from the 2013 NewFronts is that the strength of digital content lies in its deviations from the traditional model – and not in its points of comparison or contention. Nowhere was this more overtly demonstrated than at the Hulu event. Hulu lives and breathes digital video, a fact prominently conveyed through its quality of programming, in its device-centric approach to consumers and in the deftness of its advertising packages.
    From the way content is created to the type of advertiser integration opportunities available, and from the breadth of devices and platforms where it’s being consumed, to its social connection opportunities – digital video content offers marketers unique opportunities that can no longer be achieved by merely extending spots. This year’s NewFronts underscored that marketer success in this space hinges on the ability and willingness of brands to be digitally explicit in their approach.

Individual Event Highlights

Appendix: The content that caught our eye

  • How to Be a YouTube Star?” – YouTube: Stemming from the DreamWorks acquisition of AwesomenessTV, and consistent with YouTube’s celebratory spirit of their homegrown user talent, this new program from AwesomenessTV will provide the tools and tips for future teens and tweens to join the ranks of YouTube celebrity.
  • Losing Your Virginity with John Stamos” – Yahoo!: John Stamos interviews celebrities about their first sexual experiences, occasionally incorporating sock puppet re-enactments and other humorous recreations. This series is co-produced by Warriors Poets and executive produced by Morgan Spurlock and John Stamos.
  • #CandidlyNicole” – AOL: Nicole Richie draws inspiration from her nearly 4 million Twitter followers to shape a unique perspective on life, love, motherhood and style. The series launches later this spring.
  • The Awesomes” – Hulu: Saturday Night Live talent, including Seth Meyers and Bill Hader, lend their voices to Hulu’s first animated original series. The overbeat superheroes program premieres July 20.
  • The Wrong Mans” – Hulu: This Hulu original, in partnership with BBC Two, features two lowly office workers who become caught up in a deadly criminal conspiracy.

Cover photo via New Media Rockstars

Victoria Austin, Associate Media Director at 360i, contributed to this report.