Hulu kicked off the "Digital Content NewFronts" in fitting fashion, with a line of agency execs and clients down 41st Street . There were celebs (Adrian Grenier, Seth Meyers). There were green cocktails (at 10 in the morning). While some approached the idea of a digital upfront with skepticism, there was at least one convert. "Some of these shows look really good," said Jon Kaiser, director-digital strategy at WPP's Maxus. "On a few I felt myself being pulled into the content."
At Microsoft's "Digital Advertising Showcase," web-series impresario Felicia Day brought her ebullient-geek persona to the proceedings. Xbox Live users are now spending more time with content than with games, but General Manager Ross Honey said it is not looking to compete with cable. Rather, gaming will bring a new layer of entertainment to the living room.
AOL set out to one-up Microsoft with a lavish event that spilled into the evening. Arianna Huffington announced a weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, calling it "the difference between the one-night stand and the long getaway." CEO Tim Armstrong called up guests like "Project Runway" personality Nina Garcia (star of a coming AOL web series) and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, whose web studio Vuguru is producing two original scripted series for the portal.
Vevo opened its show with CEO Rio Caraeff relaying his experience as son of legendary rock photographer Ed Caraeff. His baby photos include Carly Simon reading him a story during his first haircut. (Proof, he said, that he once had hair.) And since it wouldn't be a Vevo event without talent, John Legend played the suits offstage.
At Yahoo, Katie Couric, host of her own Yahoo show, sat down with Exec VP-Americas Ross Levinsohn for a brief scripted interview. Mr. Levinsohn then led Yahoo employees in an awkward, group Yahoo yodel.
At the Digitas NewFront, "Parks and Recreation" star Rashida Jones sent her first tweet while onstage. (Two weeks later, she had north of 60,000 followers.)
Google certainly embraced the showbiz aspect of TV's upfronts with a surprise performance of "Empire State of Mind" from Jay -Z. Word of the cameo leaked outside the Beacon Theater, and a couple of New York's Finest used their all-access badges to get a peek through the stage doors. Google content VP Robert Kyncl announced that YouTube is upping its $100 million content investment, and committing another $200 million in promotion on Google's content network, meaning YouTube videos are coming to a web page near you.
Then there was the most incongruous moment of the NewFronts: WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell hamming it up with the ne'er-do-wells from Brooklyn-based Vice at a boozy affair in the financial district. "I have been to Brooklyn," he said. "But it was a long time ago." Things got sloppy fast. A news partnership with Bloomberg was announced and then kind of retracted because the deal isn't really a deal yet. "There is nobody producing this much video of good quality with web economics," said former MTV chief (and Vice investor) Tom Freston. "TV is still going to be a strong player, but it is going to get nibbled around the edges."