The Digital Content NewFronts were created in the hopes that the digital video industry could build a market for its content in the same way the TV industry does with its annual upfront. But while TV networks collectively secure billions of dollars in upfront ad commitments every year, the NewFronts have not been able to create such a marketplace, making it tough for a publisher to justify hosting a flashy event.
In the latest in our Confessions series, where we exchange anonymity for honesty, a former NewFronts presenter explained why the publisher walked away from the event. Excerpts have been edited for clarity.
Why are you no longer presenting at the NewFronts?
The NewFronts were created to be a complement to the upfronts and in the spirit of what the upfronts are meant to achieve, which is to showcase programming, big ideas, the brand and secure ad deals. But with the upfront, there’s a marketplace, and there’s a finite amount of inventory that needs to be sold. With NewFronts, we have closed deals in the past coming out of the event, but there wasn’t some watershed moment where a lot of deals got done. So if there’s no real marketplace, the NewFronts become a branding moment. We have plenty of those; we don’t need to have a branding moment in a crowded space with a bunch of other brands.
And these are expensive events, right?
They are very expensive — mid-six figures, on average — and the amount of money we made from the NewFronts never canceled out how much we spent on them.
How many deals could you typically credit the NewFronts for?
High single digits, which is not bad. But I’ve heard that in the upfronts, you can close up to three-quarters of your inventory for the full year. We certainly didn’t do that, especially because we were not selling commercial time — we were selling concepts.
It’s been argued that it’s hard to secure upfront commitments at the NewFronts because digital is year-round and infinite, and there’s no need to buy fall inventory in the spring. Do you agree?
Not completely. If you look at TV, there are midseason replacements; there’s more summer programming than ever before. TV has become year-round, too. But there’s an ease to buying TV, which has one universal metric for measurement and for buying. In digital, we still can’t figure that out, and it’s still going to be the biggest stumbling block from being able to secure the same amount of brand dollars that TV is able to secure.
One other thing that’s been holding the NewFronts back is that it has become a lot less exclusive over the years. In the past few years, a slot during week two of the NewFronts was pretty cheap to buy, which meant the NewFronts went from something that had the best of the best in web video to something that was more diluted.
How would you grade the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s management of the NewFronts?
I’m not sure, outside of organizing the slots, what their value-add is. Because the publisher is fronting the capital to build these stages, get the sizzle reels out, bring the talent out — all of the things that go into doing a NewFront. The IAB is the toll taker for a bridge that’s falling apart, but all they’re doing is taking the toll and not fixing anything. I think they’re beginning to see the downside of that in some publishers pulling back this year.
How would you improve the event?
Make it for the advertisers! If I was the IAB, I would issue an RFP, and select one or two publishers for each category and have them present to advertisers. The best example is the Omnicom Final Fronts because they’re curating partners and actually enabling collaborations.