Digital Video NewFronts

Twitter gets Disney, NBC, Viacom to boost its NewFronts lineup

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Credit: Illustration by Tam Nguyen/Ad Age

Twitter showed off more partnerships with publishers and networks at its annual NewFronts pitch to digital ad buyers on Monday night, describing plans with ESPN, Viacom, NBC Universal, Hearst, Major League Baseball and others.

The media and messaging service has been focused on video as a key area to grow its ad business, and the effort is finally showing signs of paying off.

ESPN will use "Sports Center" to break into live sports coverage on Twitter from a new account, @SCLive. There will be rival sports coverage through a new partnership with Barstool Sports, and The Players' Tribune renewed its program "#Verified."

Twitter also wants to turn the popularity of "Black Twitter" into video programming with partners like BET, which will help produce a weekly series about black voices on the platform.

The Weather Channel is creating a new brand specifically for Twitter called Pattern, which promises to develop videos on weather and science.

The number of daily video views doubled over the past year, and associated ad revenue is starting to pick up with more than half of sales now coming from video ads. That's why Twitter is still developing new products for publishers like Bloomberg and BuzzFeed, past NewFront darlings, planning to double the programs from such partnerships this year.

But who's watching?

Despite the general growth in video and video advertising, the company is light on specifics about how individual shows perform with actual viewers. For instance, Bloomberg launched TicToc, a 24-hour Twitter news service this year, but its daily viewership and average length of views are still kept private.

Twitter splits revenue with publishers and networks from the ads during their shows. There are a number of ways the publishers can strike ad deals, integrating brands into the content, showing commercials, and letting the advertisers sponsor tweets around the shows.

Twitter and Bloomberg said they will try a new ad format for them on TicToc, running an ad in one frame while the main video plays in another—like picture in picture, according to people familiar with the new ad unit.

Twitter mentioned Tic Toc during this year's NewFronts, though it wasn't the main attraction it was last year.

This year, Twitter promoted new live shows it has planned with network like ESPN and NBC. There's also a series with Ellen DeGeneres called "Celebrate," a concert series with Live Nation, and shows from Hearst's Delish and Seventeen.

Not passive

Twitter executives Leslie Berland, chief marketing officer, and Matt Derella, global VP of revenue and partnerships, led the presentation and tried to get advertisers excited about coughing up sponsorship money. The main pitch, however, followed the same lines Twitter has been following for the past year: that the platform is where they can be a part of "what's happening."

"You have access to an incredibly valuable audience when they're at their most receptive," Berland said.

"Sometimes the audience mindset is more passive," Derella said. "There is a time and place for that, but that's not Twitter."

Derella seemed to be taking a direct shot at Facebook, which has been painted as a venue for "passive" use, with people scrolling aimlessly through their timelines. Meanwhile, Twitter's strength has been capturing audiences seeking out news and cultural moments, like Kanye West tweeting support for President Trump or LeBron James hitting a game-winning basket.

Twitter gives brands an opportunity to "be big, be relevant" in those moments, Derella said.

There were 16 programs at last year's NewFronts, and all received some advertiser support from brands like Bank of America and Wendy's, Derella said. This year, Twitter has 30 video programs in the pipeline.

But not all past efforts were success stories. Last year Twitter introduced a daily show called "#WhatsHappening," for example, highlighting the core proposition of the platform. That daily program, which had been produced by Ben Silverman's Propagate, was discontinued.

A program that does have a repeat run, BuzzFeed's "AM to DM," was featured again this year with the hosts Isaac Fitzgerald and Saeed Jones putting on a mini-version of their daily livestream.

"Let's talk about the money honey," Fitzgerald said, urging sponsors to invest in the program and become part of the Twitter conversation.

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