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Digital Video NewFronts

Fire up the Google, because Viacom's NewFront pitch was a literal Who's Who of influencers

By Published on .

JoJo Siwa. Illustration by Ad Age

Viacom's first foray into the annual NewFronts shuffle was a veritable Who's Who of young influencers and creators, as the programming colossus on Monday afternoon trotted out the likes of, uh, Arturo Castro and (checks notes) JoJo Siwa and, erm, De'arra and Ken during a one-hour event that functioned as the official coming-out party for Viacom Digital Studios.

Now, if you're like us, the last time you were still in MTV's target demo Dick Cheney was vice president. As such, the introduction of each of the aforementioned Viacom personalities during this afternoon's event likely triggered some furtive Googling and more than a few drawn-out sighs.

No matter. Just as it's unseemly for anyone who's old enough to remember when Michael Stipe used to have hair to be able to name the members of the K-pop septet BTS, your geriatric ass is probably better off for never having heard of Jay Versace. (For the uninitiated, the erstwhile Vine star/social media construct is basically Gen X's answer to Steve Urkel, only Versace somehow manages to be exponentially more nettlesome.)

Of course, Viacom's entire raison d'ĂȘtre boils down to street cred, which is a somewhat outdated way of saying that the company lives or dies on its ability to scout and sign digital natives like Versace and Siwa and Liza Koshy, whose primary YouTube channel boasts 14.3 million subscribers. (Koshy late last year signed on as a co-host and roving Times Square correspondent on MTV's reboot of "TRL.")

A gifted comic actress, Koshy's PG-13 sense of humor offers advertisers a safe haven in a digital milieu that often functions as a sort of open sewer, which is music to Viacom ad sales boss Sean Moran's ears. Koshy also has a track record as a creator of branded content, having created a series of spots for Apple's Beats headphones brand that have been eyeballed 3.3 million times on YouTube. On the linear TV side of the ledger, one of Koshy's Beats spots aired exclusively on MTV back in November; per iSpot.tv data, the commercial generated 15.1 million impressions in its two-week TV window.

Over the course of the Viacom NewFront presentation, which was held in the Lighthouse event space way out at the end of New York's Pier 61 (aka Hoboken East), Moran and fellow execs like Viacom Digital Studios president Kelly Day talked up the company's new slate of online, social and mobile content. Among the programs Viacom has in the pipeline are the BET sketch comedy offering "The Majah Hype Show," Comedy Central's "Meet Your New Black Girlfriend," starring Akilah Hughes and "Road to VidCon," a multipart series that follows a young creator's journey to the annual conference devoted to all things YouTube.

In tacit acknowledgment that the times they are a-changin', Viacom in February acquired VidCon, with an eye toward expanding the confab with a 2019 London meet-up. The deal to snap up the IRL celebration of YouTube creators is somewhat ironic, given that Viacom in 2007 sued Google and its online video service for $1 billion in damages related to allegations of copyright infringement. The case was settled in 2014.

VidCon chairman and co-founder Hank Green talked up the impetus behind the conference during Monday's NewFront pitch. "I started the Con with my brother nine years ago because I wanted to help creators be creators," Green said. "I wanted to sort of show the reality of the impact that they were having on the people that they made stuff for."

Green went on to say that he continues to "want to help the world understand how special and powerful this stuff is," before noting that he'll never tire of encouraging people to create content that they can call their own. "I get to make stuff for a living and I think that that's a wonderful thing. And I know that a lot of us in this room get to make stuff for a living. So: woo!"

While the soft-spoken Green's "woo!" was about as understated as exclamations get, the needle on the audio meter jumped back into the red with the introduction of Nickelodeon personality JoJo Siwa. Sporting her trademark Pangea-sized hair bow and sounding for all the world like a team of mad scientists had recently figured out how to administer amphetamine sulfate to a squeak toy, the 14-year-old Siwa has been tapped to voice "The JoJo and BowWow Show," a series of shorts featuring the animated adventures of the YouTube personality and her teacup Yorkie.

Speaking of small-statured shrieking people, Viacom also announced that it was introducing a new wrinkle to its Old Skool "Cribs" franchise with the launch of the new digital offering "Cooking in the Crib with Snooki." Hosted by one of the stars of the newly revived "Jersey Shore," the culinary confection will be housed on MTV's YouTube channel.

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