The NewFronts, of course, were supposed to be the digital
equivalent of the upfronts. Because in the world we live in, all of
the smart digital people who wanted to declare TV an outmoded,
overpriced, unengaging, barely accountable medium thought the
upfronts were something to be envied.
But as the sector matures, copycatting the upfronts isn't the
only way the digital crowd is mimicking its big brother.
Look around. Everyone's moving into video. Video, video, video.
It's the cure-all for everything from ad fraud to viewability to ad
blocking. How does online video cure these things? The same way a
juice cleanse cures cancer! (Magical thinking.)
Even as the digerati talk about a brave new data-driven world
that engages consumers on a one-to-one basis, they're all turning
out more and more product that looks a lot like TV. And it's not
just the business side. Even the content creators themselves seem
to want to be in TV.
As Elizabeth Banks told us a few weeks ago when describing the
type of talent she's mining for her WhoHaha online network, "Most
of the people I talk to do want to be in more traditional media,
and their online presence is often just a way to get here."
Whip out your smelling salts! The kids want to be in traditional
Marketers do too. Still. Despite TV's very real problems.
But one of the wild things about TV people is how good they are
at spinning things -- like turning lower ratings and fewer
commercials into a scarcity argument and asking for higher prices.
That's not genius. That's evil genius.
And it drives digital people crazy. So crazy that they start to
sound like deranged carnival barkers.
Hey, big spender! What are you doing heading to that upfront
presentation? Step right up! Step right up! Behold, the wonderful
NewFronts. We've even capitalized the word because we mean
business! Now, I know you like your 'television programming,' but
did you know that an online video -- we call it content, don't ya
know -- can reach the same amount of people (as a moderately
successful cable program)? Sure, it might take three weeks to reach
that number, but if TV can have C3, why can't we have C3W? And our
audience is so much younger, according to data and the maturity and
literacy levels of the comments left on the videos. They're also
really engaged. We can tell by how quickly they hit the skip button
on ads! So come right in! Come right in!
And then you go into the tent and instead of seeing anything
cool, you get to listen to some guy tell you that 800,000 people
watching an exploding watermelon is the perfect audience for your
marketing dollars. (God forbid you go to the upfront and spend it
on targeting some over-49 coot who's got a stack of disposable
income burning a hole in his pocket and would likely give it to the
first advertiser who sells him something other than erectile
Say what you will about the network upfront presentations, at
least they have the potential to be entertaining. But it's easy
when you can trot out actual superstars who know how to entertain
-- or short of that, drop major bucks for A-list musical
What do the digital folks have? Online video stars who do most
of their entertaining talking into a computer? Vice's Shane Smith
flopping around on the floor? BuzzFeed's Jonah Peretti bragging
about that watermelon?
You'd think BuzzFeed, which is so capable of entertaining us on
our computers that it probably has taken five percentage points off
American workplace productivity, could have pulled off something
better than silly fruit tricks.
I had a hilarious mental image of a team of BuzzFeed execs
brainstorming for the NewFronts.
Exec No. 1: "Yo, people love those Tasty videos we have all over
Facebook, right? Let's do a live version of one of those."
Exec No. 2: "Bro. That'd be so on fleek."
(This is how I imagine BuzzFeed execs talk. Sue me.)
Exec No. 1: "'Bro' is a gendered, privileged word. Please don't
(Exec No. 1 previously worked at Jezebel.)
Exec No. 2: "Sorry, yo."
Tasty Project Lead: "Guys! I mean, girls! I mean, whatever. It's
not going to work."
Execs: "Why not?"
Tasty Project Lead: "You realize how much time it takes to make
food -- even if it's crumbling up some Oreos and covering them in
cream cheese and refrigerating them?"
Exec 1: "Yeah. Like a minute. We've seen the videos."
Exec 2: "And they do it on live TV all the time!"
Tasty Project Lead: "This isn't live TV. Our videos are sped up
and edited. And --"
Exec 1: "So we'll just hire a fast cook."
Exec 2: "Oh. A fast-food cook!"
At that point, poor Tasty Project Lead snatches up the
KitchenAid stand mixer and walks out, declaring, "Screw it. I'm
gonna go work in TV."