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Upfronts / Newfronts

Touting Their Digital Chops, Old Media Invade NewFronts

But Will Showing Up Lead to Real Ad Sales?

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Snoop Lion performed at YouTube's NewFront event in 2013
Snoop Lion performed at YouTube's NewFront event in 2013

This year's NewFronts could be confused for OldFronts.

Along with the NewFronts' six founding partners -- DigitasLBi, AOL, Yahoo, Hulu, Microsoft and Google -- the official 2014 lineup will again increase the presence of traditional media companies, with Time Inc. and The New York Times joining returning participants such as Conde Nast and The Wall Street Journal.

Other newcomers for 2014 include Scripps Networks, National Geographic and Time Warner Cable, meaning at least 7 of the 20 companies taking part in the officially-sanctioned industry program fall squarely into the traditional media camp. This year also includes Vice, a big player in digital video that nonetheless originated with a print magazine and at this point is 20 years old. And more participants are expected to join, which could push the number of legacy TV and print brands even higher.

That's a far cry from 2012, the first official NewFronts, where only 2 of the 15 official solo presenters were so rooted in "old" media: Disney Interactive and NBC Universal. Last year the NewFronts included six participants that originated in traditional media, mainly TV networks. (We're categorizing the online video network Crackle, which presented last year and is slated to appear again this year, as a web native even though it's owned by Sony.)

The NewFronts originated at Digitas in 2008 as a way of bringing then-novel web shows to the attention of curious advertisers. In the years since, web video is looking less like a novelty and more like a life raft for struggling traditional media looking for new sources of revenue. In 2012, the NewFronts became a joint venture from the six founding partners, which opened the event up to non-Digitas clients and helped usher in old media. Last year the Interactive Advertising Bureau took over management.

There's no old-school media invasion this year in proportional terms, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The ratio of legacy media to digital-only presenters is about the same as last year, the IAB said. It's just that the number of presenters, digital-native and otherwise, are growing.

Indeed, the rise of traditional media at the NewFronts might suggest less a graying of the event and more the digital evolution of old media companies, which want the stage to highlight their digital programming and to roll out new advertising products.

The New York Times is planning to introduce original programming as well as branded video playlists that marketers can populate with their own branded videos, according to Rebecca Howard, general manager-video at the Times, which like other traditional publishers is making a big effort to expand its video business. "There's been a lot of noise around our video efforts," she said. "This will be our day to show what's come of that."

Time Inc., the publisher of magazines including Time and Sports Illustrated, will show off a variety of video content. Last week, Sports Illustrated announced the creation of 120 Sports, a new digital sports network with partners Major League Baseball, Nascar, NBA and NHL. "To reach millennials, we have to have this content," said J.R. McCabe, senior VP-video at Time Inc. "We also need to deliver it to the advertising community."

Marketers are expected to spend $5.7 billion on digital video advertising this year and to push that figure to $9.2 billion by 2017, according to eMarketer. The growth in digital video, where media companies can fetch higher rates than display ads, has sparked a land rush among publishers. The NewFronts, which are modeled on the TV industry's annual upfront pitch to ad buyers, offer them a place to show off their newly minted digital wares.

"NewFronts is an indicator that digital video as a medium has absolutely established itself," said IAB President-CEO Randall Rothenberg.

Buyers seem receptive to what they see at the NewFronts, where last year 78% of buy-side attendees said they picked up at least one new opportunity for clients, according to an IAB survey. "The most interesting part of the NewFronts is, if before something is produced, clients can embed themselves into it," said Ari Bluman, GroupM's Chief Digital Investment Officer for North America.

But publishers shouldn't necessarily expect actual deal-making to take place during the NewFronts, according to Mr. Bluman. "At the upfronts, deals are done right there and then," he said. "With video, it doesn't fit into the buying and planning of media, which happens throughout the year."

Dow Jones, which presented at last year's event, sold more video in 2013 than any previous year, according to Trevor Fellows, the company's global head of ad sales. "Many of those deals came together based on conversations that started because of NewFronts," he said in an email.

The NewFronts are as much about table-setting for later in the year as it is creating awareness. "If your goal is to generate immediate revenue, it's difficult," said Keith Richman, president of Defy Media, the result of the merger of Break and Alloy Digital, the latter of which presented at last year's NewFronts. "But if it's about brand-building and getting your name out there, it's a good place to be."

That's a good place for old-media companies aiming to prove to marketers and buyers that they're serious players in the digital-video field. "Everybody dreams of making transactions," Ms. Howard said. "Transactions that day haven't been very common to date. It's basically like an acceleration point and ability to get the word out."

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