The Digital Content NewFronts this year tightened up, cleaned up and grew up.
The event was pared down and much more refined than in years past. With just one week of presentations instead of the usual two, those that remained on the schedule for the most part presented pretty high-caliber material. (The IAB plans a second week of presentations later this year in Los Angeles, a first for the NewFronts.)
This was the NewFronts that "America needs now," says Ben Winkler, chief investment officer at OMD, via email. "A healthy mix of information, entertainment and feel-good empowerment."
"The biggest breakthrough: Every presenter could credibly claim to be an alternative or complement to TV," he says.
Sure, there were still plenty of young influencers that middle-aged ad buyers snapped pictures of to show their teenage kids, but nearly every digital brand also linked arms with traditional content creators in an effort to boost its credibility.
But the NewFronts have also started to look a whole lot more like the TV upfronts. Some of the companies presenting this week—including Hulu, YouTube, Walt Disney and Conde Nast—talked up the power of the living room screen, the one they said a few years ago was being replaced by mobile.
YouTube even hosted its dog-and-pony show at the iconic Radio City Music Hall, which in less than two weeks will also be the site of NBC Universal's upfronts presentation. And in true upfronts fashion, there was a late-night host, Comedy Central's Trevor Noah, on hand to sling some jokes.
Here's a look at some of the oddest moments and best one-liners of the week.
Hippest location: Conde Nast hosted its presentation at a penthouse in lower Manhattan that's on that market with a list price of $60 million. It also boasts the largest living room in Manhattan. But it had one big downside: The elevator was super slow.
Stealthiest presentation: Disney Digital Network had every attendee seal their cell phones in an envelope upon entering its presentation and sign a non-disclosure agreement. Why all the secrecy? The Mouse House showed a scene from the upcoming "Wreck-It Ralph 2." At least one reporter was almost kicked out for refusing to close his computer.
Best place to feel old: It was a tie between Viacom and YouTube. Viacom's first foray at the NewFronts was a who's who of young influencers and creators, the majority of whom no one in the room recognized, including our own Anthony Crupi. "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," he wrote.
At YouTube, Michelle Phan (remember her?) was referred to as an "O.G.."
Best celebrity appearance: This one's a tough call, given the predominance of 16-year-old YouTube stars only known to their target demos. NewFront presenters also paraded plenty of more traditional big-name stars before ad buyers, from Christina Aguilera at Conde Nast to Noah at YouTube. But we're just going to go with Mickey Mouse, who posed for selfies at Disney Digital's event.
Funniest presentation: Hulu brought the laughs. Sarah Silverman took the stage at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden to announce the renewal of "I Love You, America." "Hi human people in the advertising business," she said, "It's me, your goddless Jewish friend Sarah."
Jerome Carmichael introduced himself and added, "or as you know me, AA 18-49," referring to the demographic most coveted by advertisers.
Ramy Youssef, whose comedy series "Ramy" was just picked up by the streaming platform, got laughs for his own intro: "I'm Muslin, like from the news."
But perhaps the funniest moments came from Mindy Kaling, who is rebooting the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" as a limited series. Kaling poked Hulu's own head of ad sales Peter Naylor before slamming rival streaming platforms.
"Hulu doesn't drown you with 12 episodes all at once and then an Adam Sandler movie every other week," Kaling said, knocking Netflix binge-watching and exaggerating only slightly about its Sandler slate.
"And Hulu also isn't an add-on to the website where you buy tampons and garden hoses," she added (that's Amazon, of course).
Most dangerous stunt: Former MLB star Carlos Beltran hit balls, albeit Wiffle balls, into the audience at Twitter's NewFront. Beltran attended the event to announce a new MLB show, "The Dugout."
Best college vibe: Oath, the AOL-Yahoo hybrid formed by Verizon, held a pier party for its NewFronts. Host Jamie Foxx turned the festivities into a Spring Break atmosphere with drinking games and moments for group selfies.
And an answer to the question "to boycott, or not to boycott": Former PepsiCo Global Beverage Group President Brad Jakeman had the answer at Digitas' boycott-themed NewFront: "A brand that is irrelevant is in much greater trouble than a brand that is controversial."
Contributing: Garett Sloane, Megan Graham