OMD Exchange – Erin in the Big Apple – Part 3

Last update I mentioned the forthcoming “Upfronts” – one of the most important calendar events for the US television industry. All of the major cable and broadcast networks put on a big jazzy song and dance to show off their new programming before an audience of advertising executives, all in the hope said execs will turn their pockets inside out (or should that be their clients’ pockets..?) Sounds like fun if you work in TV buying, right? Well this year the digi-nerds are getting in on the action, with online video taking the stage in a series of presentations called the Digital Content “NewFronts” in New York City from April 19th to May 2nd, part of an effort to get the industry talking about new and exciting web content.

While clearly conceived as a way to mimic TV upfronts, the first Digital NewFronts are expected to play out a little differently. Participants like Hulu, Vevo, AOL, Yahoo, YouTube and Microsoft, hope to get into the minds of brands and agencies when they’re opening their check books for TV buys – and I quite literally mean checks, they love those things over here – urging them to think bigger, earlier, about digital content. Some want to make overt pitches against TV. I read an Ad Age article in the lead up to the NewFronts where the sales chief of Vevo said; “We’re going way ahead of the broadcast upfronts and really challenging brands to shift the dollars to where the eyeballs are today, not where they were yesterday.” It is true that the digital upfronts have arrived as TV viewing continues to fragment. While more people are watching television overall, the biggest shows reach smaller audiences. Another Ad Age article (it was a hot topic!) ponders whether ‘TV’ is simply a state of mind, suggesting that instead of thinking about TV dollars moving to online where the eyeballs are headed, should we really be thinking about TV dollars staying where they are and online becoming TV? Ok, I just confused myself typing that! But that’s really the crux of the Digital Content NewsFronts, and the question hanging in the air as big digital media players packed in the crowds to unveil revised online video strategies, new longer-form exclusive for web content, and new premium channels. They want marketers to think about digital programming in the same way they do TV.

I’m actually on ‘vacation’ when the event kicks-off, enjoying the 100-degree heat (reminder, I’m using Fahrenheit over here) at the Coachella music festival in Palm Springs. I return to NYC early morning on Thursday April 26th to a mass of emails and a reminder that I accepted an invitation to the MTV Upfront that night. I’m a little rock-starred out and ready for a night in, but figure I should go as it will give me a good benchmark from which to assess how the YouTube event plays out the following week… also PepsiCo clients are going so I’d better make an appearance! Arriving at Beacon Theater in the Upper West Side the atmosphere is buzzing with people are arriving in busloads and milling about on the red carpet. If the signs in flashy neon lights didn’t say ‘MTV Upfront 2012’ you could easily be forgiven for thinking we’d just arrived at the Emmy Awards. It really was a spectacle from start to finish, with MTV making serious use of its access to reality TV and rock stars: Snooki from Jersey Shore took the stage in wedge heels and a mini-maternity dress to promote her new show, the pop-rock trio Fun played its ubiquitous single ‘We Are Young’, and Alicia Keys closed the night with a mini-set that included a never-before-performed song and her hit ‘Streets of New York’ (aka ‘Empire State of Mind, Part II’). Pinch myself NY moment #227!

Now that I’ve given you a taste of a real live cable TV upfront, let me get back to the Digital NewFront debut. There were a lot of predictions about what the these presentations would reveal, with a couple of the overarching themes being that the gaps in quality and length between web video and TV are set to collapse. Below is quick summary of a few of the actual headlines…

  • Hulu – after generating $420 million in revenue in 2011, Hulu confirmed that they would be investing these dollars into original programming
  • Vevo – unveiled a slate of new original programming and production partners focused on extending their music core into lifestyle content
  • AOL – announced they would sell video ads using gross ratings points provided by Nielsen, the same currency used to buy TV. Converting to GRPs will be a first among publishers, which mostly sell video based on views or impressions
  • Yahoo – hoping to support their new positioning as the “premier digital media company,” Yahoo announced several content deals covering comedy, sci-fi, news and men’s interest
  • YouTube – reiterated plans to offer and promote dozens of channels of original programming that will produce 25 hours of new material every day. American Express, AT&T and Unilever were announced as launch partners­

I was there to witness YouTube’s big announcements, finding myself at the Beacon Theatre yet again for the star-studded show on Wednesday May 2nd. Among others there was Jay-Z, Flo Rida and the Neon Trees, Pharrell Williams, Julia Stiles and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. Despite some awkward technical glitches YouTube put on a command performance in their presentation, however it lacked cohesiveness, not surprising given that they’re launching “one hundred channels” of content. Jay-Z’s surprise performance of ‘Empire State of Mind’ (OMG!) at the end of the night was more than enough to leave me completely awestruck. Since there were plenty of smartphones in the house it didn’t take long for a video of his performance to appear on YouTube… I posted mine on Facebook. Shhhh!

I’ll be happy to share more details when I’m Sydney-side again very soon!

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