NewFronts 2016: Nat Geo Plans VR Trip to Mars, Fullscreen Expands, Vice Talks TV at a Digital Affair

Publishers Bringing Virtual Reality to Almost Every Pitch

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After making his presentation at Vice's 2016 NewFronts event, CEO Shane Smith performed with Nick Zinner and Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jaleel Bunton of TV on the Radio and producer Money Mark.
After making his presentation at Vice's 2016 NewFronts event, CEO Shane Smith performed with Nick Zinner and Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jaleel Bunton of TV on the Radio and producer Money Mark. Credit: Sara Wass/Vice

The annual NewFronts returned Monday, May 2, to put publishers' digital video pitches in front of ad buyers once again. This year the series of presentations, from companies spanning YouTube to Playboy, comes as TV shows renewed traction with advertisers and digital remains dogged by concerns over ad fraud. But marketers' appetite for digital video is still strong -- just as strong as publishers' interest in feeding it.

We'll be updating this page throughout the NewFronts, so come back often.


The final presentation of the 2016 NewFronts came courtesy of Mashable, which talked up the proprietary technology it uses to help decide what to publish, its plans for live video and its desire to incorporate marketers. Jeremy Barr


Once called NowThis News, Nowthis was early on several trends that have since taken over the digital media industry: mobile, mobile video and distributed, off-site publishing. The company, which began in 2012, and would probably like to capitalize on its prescience in the form of ad dollars.

"We're not in the hit-driven business," said Athan Stephanopoulos, the company's president, at its first NewFronts presentation May 12. "We're not looking for viral videos." That being said, NowThis brings in 1.6 billion video views a month, a big number.

Former BuzzFeed CRO Andy Wiedlin also spoke at the presentation, held at the New Museum in SoHo. "You have an opportunity to tell great stories, to pimp less, and to not suck so much," he told the crowd. Tina Exarhos, who recently joined NowThis as CMO, compared the company to her former employer, MTV. "It really reminds me of the early days of MTV, which I can tell you about later over drinks," she said. J.B.

Complex Media

Still glowing from its recent acquisition by Verizon and Hearst, Complex Media presented to advertisers and agency folks in a slightly humid room on the 39th floor of the Time-Life Building. The big news was the announcement of a two-day-long festival called ComplexCon, to be held in California in November. The singer Pharrell will chair the event's host committee.

Complex CEO Rich Antoniello said the company is pursuing an aggressive expansion in video, including live video. "If anyone does it, we're going to fucking do it bigger and better than any of them," he said, calling the company "a gloriously beautiful work in progress." Complex founder and fashion designer Marc Ecko, assessing the company's recent progress, said: "Everything we said we were going to do last year, we did and more." J.B.


The popular YouTube network majority owned by AT&T and the Chernin Group helped kick of week two of the 2016 NewFronts on Monday, May 9, by announcing a slight rebranding, to Fullscreen Media, and a reorganization into three groups: a video-creator network, where the company began; Fullscreen Entertainment, to house its new streaming-video subscription service and other operations; and Fullscreen Brandworks, to work for marketers seeking a "post-TV audience," as the company put it. Nat Ives

National Geographic Partners

Making its first NewFronts presentation since 21st Century Fox and National Geographic formed the joint venture last fall, National Geographic Partners announced 10 digital short series such as "Before Mars," a warm-up to the scripted TV series "Mars" that's scheduled for November; an Instagram series called "Moving Pictures" featuring photographers on shoots; and plans for a virtual reality studio, whose activities will also help promote "Mars." N.I.


Last year's Vice NewFront was a must-attend affair. The big question was whether Vice would finally announce the TV network that had been rumored for many months. It didn't, but that non-announcement was news in and of itself. Since last year's presentation, of course, Vice did start a cable channel, Viceland, taking over the H2 Network.

The 2016 Vice NewFront on Friday, May 6, was all about the success of that channel in attracting far younger viewers than before (albeit with a track record only a few months long and small audience numbers). "We are bringing millennials back to TV," CEO Shane Smith told the crowd, before adding: "I don't know why I'm so excited about that."

Vice, he said, will create up to 20 TV channels around the world. He also announced plans for six new areas on the Vice website for subjects such as health and money. Then, in true Vice fashion, he switched from media executive to rocker, and sang lead vocals on the Sham 69 song "If The Kids Are United." J.B.


During its event on day four of the 2016 Digital Content NewFronts, YouTube pitched a new product to advertisers designed to meet the challenge of identifying viral videos before they take off. Breakout Videos packages the hottest and fastest-rising videos on YouTube, CEO Susan Wojcicki told ad buyers. The event also featured news and appearances from more than 100 YouTube stars, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Big Bird, on hand to promote the new Sesame Studios channel on YouTube.

This being the 2016 NewFronts, there were also big promises about virtual reality. "We have more 360-degree and VR content than any platform in the world and in fact you can watch every single video on YouTube with a VR headset," Ms. Wojcicki said. Jeanine Poggi


There was a line down the block for PopSugar's Wednesday presentation, which was vibrant and colorful, and featured an even mix of sizzle reels and quick talks by the female-focused digital media company's show hosts and talent. "Our core beliefs are the same today as they were in our first year," said founder Lisa Sugar.

The company announced a bunch of new shows and partnerships, and a documentary series called "PopDocs" sponsored by Chevrolet.

David Grant, PopSugar Studios president, acknowledged that a lot of media companies use the NewFronts every year to tout shows that either don't get made or don't get renewed, and was sure to mention that PopSugar is renewing its entire slate of existing franchise shows.

On the content marketing side, the company announced PopSugar Motion, which will make available the company's editorial tool kit to brands for the first time. J.B.

Hearst Magazines Digital Media

Hearst closed out day 3 of the NewFronts on Wednesday with promises of Facebook Live video series, Snapchat expertise and a performance by Channing Tatum and his "Magic Mike Live" Vegas revue. Photos and other details important to ad buyers here. J.B.

Ellen DeGeneres

So what if Ellen DeGeneres wasn't part of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's official agenda for the Digital Content NewFronts? She's already got Ellentube, her YouTube page, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" website, a big social media following and the digital game "Heads Up!" -- not to mention the visibility of a daytime TV show every weekday. So she showed up with her own pitch on Wednesday, announcing Ellen Digital Network, backed by Warner Bros. TV Group and enlisting talent from the likes of social media star Tyler Oakley. Here's the full story. J.P.


As a streaming service owned by the old-school TV powers, Hulu has always stood out at the NewFronts, as both a premium player and something quite distinct from a YouTube network or magazine publisher trying to move into digital video. At its NewFront presentation at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, executives described plans to improve the ad experience and help marketers better measure the effectiveness of their media buys on over-the-top devices.

It also said it has partnered with BrightLine to deliver the first interactive advertising built specifically for connected TVs. Havas Media will be the exclusive charter agency for the new product, which will debut this summer. J.P.


In a NewFronts year where it was hard to find an event that didn't mention virtual reality, Yahoo wasn't going there. Instead the company is focusing on a "simplified" video agenda that includes live video (another favorite of everyone in 2016) and fourt subjects: sports, finance, news and lifestyle. Yahoo made its case to ad buyers in a private meeting, departing from the big show of 2015 as well as big promises like 18 new original series, the most prominent of which never arrived.

Yahoo Live will be a focal point moving forward for the company, said Lisa Utzschneider, chief revenue officer at Yahoo, ahead of the no-press-allowed pitch. "It's an important bet we're making," she said. "And the ability to stream that content, whether on the smartphone or on the desktop, is equally important."

What the company gives up in complexity, however, it aims to add in volume, promising more video than ever. George Slefo

Lindsay Nelson, Global Head of Brand Strategy, Vox Media.
Lindsay Nelson, Global Head of Brand Strategy, Vox Media. Credit: Photo by James Hartley for Vox Media.

Vox Media

"Prefabulous" is the working title for a TV show announced by Vox Media at one of its events on the second day of the 2016 NewFronts. If it sounds like a series about YouTube wannabes on the cusp of fame, well, it's not. More on that, plus Vox Media's Snapchat plans and new programmatic elements of its collaboration with NBC Universal, here. J.B.


While Yahoo and Maker scaled back their NewFronts events and closed them to the press, AOL went the other way entirely, staging a pitch that was open to the public and outdoors at New York's South Street Seaport on Tuesday. It also incorporated other publishers: Of the 25 displays at the block-party-styel event, only 8 belonged to AOL brands, with Huffington Post, TechCrunch and Maker appearing alongside partners like the National Football League and Hearst.

"This has to do with our open philosophy," said Jack Bamberger, senior VP-global head of agency development, AOL. "Open means everything from partnering to literally data."

During a brief press conference, CEO Tim Armstrong said the idea was to show the industry how consumers interact with brands and technology. Available experiences included a drone course from TechCrunch, a free-throw game from the NBA and a football toss from the NFL.

For all that, AOL was sure to emphasize elements it believed advertisers were listening for, including virtual reality, data and premium original content. J.P.

Conde Nast Entertainment

The entertainment arm of the publisher of magazines such as Vogue and The New Yorker said on May 2, the second day of the NewFronts, that it was revamping its digital video hub The Scene as a "mobile-first social video platform." It also announced a "broad distribution deal" with Comcast, an "expanding relationship" with Amazon, new programming and enhanced data capabilities. J.B.


Refinery29's NewFronts presentation to close out opening day felt more like a high-flying, ultra-chic night on the town than a staid corporate presentation. Guests at the ArtBeam space in Chelsea experienced a dazzling array of lights and sounds throughout the event.

Co-CEOs Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano presented first, before giving way to an impressive lineup of female performers, actors and fashion stars. Among other things, Refinery29 announced the introduction of two new channels (or as the business calls them, verticals): "Brawlers" to focus on sports, and "Riot" to focus on comedy.

Refinery29 added that ShatterBox Anthology, the short-film series first unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival in January, will include films directed by actresses Kristen Stewart and Gabourey Sidibe. (Ms. Sidibe was on hand for the announcement, and spoke of directing as an opportunity to finally control how she is portrayed on screen.) "Ugly Betty" actress America Ferrera has also been tapped to serve as an executive producer for two Refinery29 multimedia projects.

The company also revealed plans for a new unit focused on virtual reality storytelling, VR29 Studios. "We believe that change is possible," Chief Content Officer Amy Emmerich said. "We are determined to be part of it." The crowd wasn't just receptive to what Refinery29 had to offer; they seemed downright thrilled to be a part of it. J.B.

Bloomberg Media

Bloomberg Media, as it did last year, presented several new opportunities for advertisers with cool names like Kinection (the company's re-branded and re-launched content studio, previously known as Bloomberg Media Studios) and Bloomberg VidPlus, which, according to the company, "allows advertiser messaging to appear within the programming screen at contextually relevant precisely targeted moments."

"It's not a surprise that every publisher has a content studio," said Paul Caine, global chief revenue officer. "But reaching our elite and elusive audience has gotten far more complex and definitely more challenging."

The company announced a handful of new video series, like the David Rubenstein-hosted "Peer To Peer," and the forthcoming relaunch of Bloomberg Technology (and, with it, new advertising opportunities). Keith A. Grossman, head of sales, Americas, said that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg passed along praise for a recently launched Bloomberg digital show, "Hello World," which focuses on tech and travel. J.B.


BuzzFeed wants marketers to join it in cracking Facebook Live, which has quickly become nearly the same priority for some media companies as for Facebook itself. You can see why: BuzzFeed attracted 800,000 concurrent viewers for an experiment in which two employees strung rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded.

"This number is really exciting to me, because it's the first time we've had a number that's comparable to TV," Mr. Peretti said at BuzzFeed's NewFronts pitch May 2. (TV networks point out that digital "views" aren't equivalent to Nielsen ratings, and one trade group recently proposed using average audiences as the yardstick by which to compare audiences across platforms.)

BuzzFeed also said it would create more original content for brands, talked up its partnership with NBC Universal and emphasized its video work with predominantly young so-called digital natives. J.B.

Attendees tried out virtual reality at The New York Times upfront pitch in New York on May 2.
Attendees tried out virtual reality at The New York Times upfront pitch in New York on May 2. Credit: Doug Goodman/IAB via The New York Times

The New York Times

The New York Times, the first presenter at the 2016 NewFronts, announced plans for six new digital video series, focusing on topics including music, space exploration and productivity. The Times aims to sign up one marketer to sponsor each show, said Sebastian Tomich, senior VP-advertising and innovation.

It's also continuing to push into virtual reality, both for its journalism and its advertisers. "Today we stand before as you as the leaders in virtual reality journalism," New York Times Magazine Editor in Chief Jake Silverstein told the crowd assembed at the Times Center. Associate editor Sam Dolnick, presenting alongside Mr. Silverstein, said "virtual reality can produce memorable advertising." Some branded VR videos, he said, are more popular than editorial ones. J.B.

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