Digital platforms are aggressively seeking TV dollars again in this year's NewFronts presentations, which kick off on Monday. And while the dollars shifting into digital are still expected to pale in comparison to the size of TV's upfront market, on which the NewFronts are based, advertisers are getting closer to considering these platforms on the same playing field as traditional TV networks.
The trick is finding web video that will accumulate a big audience and perhaps even become a recurring franchise -- something the NewFronts, for all their expensive parties and confident presentations, have largely failed to deliver.
In an attempt to better find content that works, media agencies this year have begun hosting conversations with pure digital players like Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's Crackle at the same time as they are meeting with the traditional TV networks.
"We have been pushing people to all come to the table," said Shelby Saville, exec VP-managing director, Spark. "The more we keep it separate and say first we will see broadcast and cable and then digital the more we keep everything in different buckets. So our team will take overview meetings from NBC one day and Crackle another day."
"Digitally-led conversations are taking place at the same time as upfronts," said Kirsten Atkinson, media director, Team One. "The conversations are more advanced than they were at this time last year. We are bringing digital players in at the same time as TV networks."
"There's more of an organized, agency-wide effort to meet with these folks and for them to get in front of TV buyers," said David Campanelli, senior VP-national broadcast, Horizon Media.
As the NewFronts earn more attention from media buyers and their clients, agency executives say they will look to do more deals with digital players during the traditional upfront buying season rather than waiting as much as in the past.
But in terms of the amount of dollars that will shift, Mr. Campanelli said there are still not many digital series with large enough audiences to warrant taking a ton of TV dollars.
NewFronts presenters, which include companies such as AOL and Yahoo, will try to use the data at their disposal to compensate. Ms. Saville said she will be looking at what data digital platforms have available and how her clients can use it.
"We will do deals using data to inform the deals, but also will look to strike deals where we will gain access to data," she said.
Ms. Saville also wants to see how digital platforms plan to build an audience over time and achieve large enough scale to compete for real TV dollars. "Are they creating franchises that can live year-over-year?" she said. "We hope to see more of how they are building audience for the long-term."
Buyers might look, too, for short-term plans, like how a NewFronts presenter plans to promote its content. Posting video and hoping the audience finds it hasn't worked well in the past.
Indeed, one of the biggest complaints about the NewFronts has been the lack of concrete results after the presentations end. Digital publishers excitedly describe a batch of planned content, much of which doesn't ultimately show up -- or show up enough for many consumers to notice it.
Buyers hope that changes this year. "I think much of what is presented will materialize," said Chet Fenster, managing partner, MEC Entertainment. "It won't be like seven or eight years ago when AOL presented a bunch of stuff and only one made it."
Other media executives said more digital platforms will try to work with broadcasters to share both talent and distribution in an effort to build bigger online audiences for both sides.