The NewFronts were designed to ask agencies and brands to think about web video the same way they think about TV -- a fair request given shifting viewing habits and online production values that are now on par with on-air programming. To hammer the similarities home, NewFront presenters last year imitated the traditional upfront parties where TV networks trot out stars and try to dazzle ad buyers just before negotiations for the fall season begin.
But thinking about the two in similar terms doesn't necessarily make the case for similar ad spending levels. Missing in between last year's Mustang giveaway and Jay-Z show was a sustained focus on what makes online video unique. By striving to mirror the precedent set by the upfronts, the 2012 NewFront overlooked what inherently makes digital video valuable: measurement, engagement and flexibility.
With so few web publishers really delving into measurement last year, there is at least an opportunity for publishers to stand out by talking it up this time around - and not necessarily to mimic TV.
New audience validation products from comScore and Nielsen help digital speak in the same language as television, using GRPs as an example, but that's not ideal for the channel for a variety of reasons. Digital is an interactive, choice-based medium that offers the ability to track behaviors like engagement, views and clicks. There isn't a need to rely on a sole metric like a GRP to gauge impact. And the number of impressions may not even matter when the goal is to acquire engagement or a click, which then becomes the basis for the price.
Publishers need to educate the market and showcase the value in shifting TV dollars to online video as a means of achieving a brand's objectives, not just delivering exposure. Online video content creates deep, meaningful connections with highly engaged audiences -- and as a result, it can move brand metrics.
Web video has other advantages. The shift in viewing from TV to other screens has created a demand for higher production quality and more diversity in digital programming. Publishers have answered the call by creating content across multiple niche verticals as broad as "parenting" and as specific as "geek." This brand-safe content creates an ideal environment for brands to integrate and align with. But they also have more creative control and flexibly within digital content because there aren't as many guardrails restricting creativity.
The premise of an upfront-style market for digital video, of course, may be flawed in other ways not so conducive to the ambitions of Hulu, YouTube, AOL and many others. Digital inventory isn't as limited as network TV, so there may not currently be a need to secure digital inventory nine months in advance.
But there is still a place for the NewFronts. The solution just isn't to replicate what the TV networks have done for decades to sell their inventory. The NewFronts need to differentiate by providing value and focusing on the unique powers online video brings to media mixes.