‘Less about sizzle’: Publishers test alternatives to annual NewFronts

Digiday’s NewFronts coverage is presented by Hulu.

The NewFronts offers publishers and platforms a stage to exchange sizzle reels for ad dollars. But while Group Nine Media is a fan of some flash — like Thrillist-endorsed baked potato bars and The Dodo-celebrated puppies — substance is more of a priority, said the media company’s president Christa Carone.

This year, Group Nine bowed out of the annual NewFronts, which they had participated in the last two years (NowThis also hosted one in 2016). Instead, the publisher has been hosting its own marketing roadshow, visiting 11 cities and hosting several dozen meetings with brands and agencies from April to May.

“We are bringing so many different advertising opportunities for our clients today, operating social-first, omnichannel. It’s complex. It’s new. We felt this was a year that we had to be situated to have much more detailed conversations with our clients, less about sizzle and more about what we offer and here’s how you can partner with us,” Carone said.

Group Nine’s absence comes as the NewFronts has scaled down over the years, reducing from a two-week show to one week in New York and a two-day event in Los Angeles. Refinery29, which hosted presentations from 2015 to 2018, is not participating this year, as well. Snap participated in NewFronts West last October but decided to host its own partner summit, which featured news beyond new content offerings, earlier this month.

Industry insiders said there’s a myriad of reasons not to host a NewFront. One big reason is they don’t come cheap. Another is a lack of intimacy. While publicly broadcasting offerings may take less time than individual meetings and offer some earned-media attention, it doesn’t provide white-glove service that some clients prefer. NewFronts also introduces accountability, which can make a content creator look bad if they never end up delivering.

For Group Nine, the cost wasn’t the main concern for joining the NewFront. In fact, its alternate plan requires flying several executives across the country and overseas. The company was more interested in hosting productive and personalized discussions within their clients’ offices rather than requiring them to come to New York for a one-day, one-hour show.

“It’s really reallocating the way you would spend your industry marketing dollars and making sure for us how could we get a more significant bang for our buck. This wasn’t necessarily about spending less it was about spending much smarter,” Carone said.

If companies are willing and able to afford it, NewFronts can offer legitimacy to ambitions. A former Refinery29 executive said the company originally saw the event as a way to legitimize its video offerings even if they didn’t have a big audience. In 2016, Refinery29 used the NewFronts to launch “Brawlers,” a YouTube channel about female athletes, and it had signed Smartwater as a partner. In 2018, Refinery29 announced its plan to launch Channel29, an OTT channel, in the fourth quarter of 2018. The service was intended to feature ad-supported original programming and shopping. Late last year, the company nixed the name and repositioned it as a Refinery29 app across streaming platforms like Roku.

By throwing a quality event featuring sizzle reels, star appearances and good snacks, Refinery29’s NewFronts also provided a case study for its event business, said Amy Emmerich, president of North America and chief content officer of Refinery29.

But the company decided against participating this year. Instead, Refinery29 is focusing its time and attention on producing content and preparing for its expansion of 29Rooms, Emmerich said. That event is going on a national tour this summer and will provide an opportunity for executives to meet with marketers and potential clients at each location. Similar to Group Nine, Refinery29’s executive team is also focused on intimate meetings with partners (Emmerich was in Los Angeles last week for clients meetings.)

While platforms like Hulu, Twitter and YouTube have become mainstays at the NewFronts, Snap decided not to join this year. At the NewFronts West in October, Snap had announced Snap Originals, its new brand for its original programming, which it had elaborated on during its partner summit. A Snap spokesperson said the company isn’t ruling out presenting in the future and considers the NewFronts to be a highly influential event.

Group Nine also is evaluating its future with the NewFronts.

“We did it the last two years as Group Nine, and it’s been really successful. But I think for this year, we want to test if we could have more of an impact and build momentum in the marketplace if we go to where our clients are,” Carone said.

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