TV Upfront

AOL's NewFronts Pitch: 'Formats Are the New Dayparts'

From TV-Like Series to Clips Better Suited for Mobile

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The stereotypical NewFront presentation has a publisher showcasing a line-up of original TV-style shows for advertisers to sponsor. That's been AOL's NewFronts strategy for years -- but not this time.

"This is not the big 'Here's all the things we're announcing' day today," said Dermot McCormack, AOL's president of video and studios, in an interview ahead of the company's NewFronts presentation in New York Tuesday night. "The reason for that is we want to use this year as an opportunity to take a left-hand turn from what the NewFronts traditionally mean."

AOL's NewFront pitch still revolves around original programming, but more of it and in different formats for different viewing environments. For example, AOL has renewed two relatively traditional series starring Steve Buscemi and James Franco, respectively, that are probably best watched while on the couch. But it is also rolling out a daily, two-and-a-half-minute show called "What to Watch" that might be better suited to viewing while waiting in line at Starbucks.

"Formats are the new dayparts. People are not really living by the TV schedule," Mr. McCormack said. AOL is programming for audiences who may want to watch one thing on their phone in the morning, another on their tablet in the afternoon and yet another on their internet-connected TV at night, he said.

In total AOL plans to create more than 3,600 video episodes, 45 times as many episodes as the company posted last year.

That output will include high-end programs such as the interview series "Beyond the Horizon With Jared Leto" and the documentary series "Citizen Mars," which follows the lives of five finalists as they prepare to potentially travel to Mars. But it will extend to shorter series that may not bear as many similarities to TV programming. "We will have by the end of May [or] early June five daily, short-form shows just built for mobile," he said.

The quantitiy and variety of AOL's "Content 365" video strategy has two goals: to make more viewers start thinking of AOL as a place to watch and, in turn, to present advertisers with more opportunities to reach those audiences.

Heading into its NewFronts presentation, AOL held 31 meetings with advertisers and received two pieces of feedback, said AOL's CMO Allie Kline. Brands want to see AOL develop audiences for its content, and they want to be able to buy audiences that scale beyond the reach of that content, she said.

To that end, AOL plans to use its celebrity talent and owned-and-operated sites to promote its content on AOL and across social media. The company is also opening up its wallet to properly market its programming the old-fashioned way. For many of its shows, AOL has committed to spend as much on marketing the program as it did on producing it, Ms. Kline said.

And AOL will use its ad-tech tools and audience data, so that marketers who advertise against a given show can then continue to advertise to that show's audience across AOL properties.

"It's not just a slate of 'Here's eight episodes,'" Mr. McCormack said. "We're trying to hit from all angles."