Buyers and Sellers Weigh In on the Value of NewFronts
Media companies are bullish, but three agency execs are more circumspect.
The Digital NewFronts concluded earlier this month after a run of 10 days that featured presentations from more than 30 media companies, including more than a handful from magazine media.
The NewFronts—a series of presentations hosted by the Internet Advertising Bureau that allow media companies to showcase new digital video offerings to agencies and brands—are now in their sixth year. They’ve become an established part of the media-industry digital ad-buying landscape.
Among magazine-media companies participating were Time Inc., Bloomberg Media, Condé Nast Entertainment, Hearst Digital Media, Trusted Media Brands Inc., Vice Media, and Entrepreneur Network. A partial list of other participants includes The New York Times, Disney, PopSugar, Refinery29, Business Insider, Mashable and LittleThings.
Now that presentations are over and the hoped-for next step is booking sponsorship deals, we asked a variety of stakeholders what they think about NewFronts. We found an intriguing and sharp divergence among buyers and sellers. Sellers — the media companies — see a lot of perceived value. In fact, all three of the magazine media companies we spoke to — Hearst, Condé Nast and Bloomberg Media — offered positive feedback. The buyer side was much more skeptical — allowing for the possibility of value, but also critiquing the process using strong and colorful language.
For example, Catherine Warburton, chief investment officer at Assembly, says that NewFront success hinges completely on the media company having something substantially different to offer. “I have attended NewFronts, and some didn’t tell me anything different,” she says. “They didn’t tell me about their audience, and to me that was a waste of time.”
She notes that the NewFronts grew out of the long-established television Upfronts, when TV networks showcase their offerings for the upcoming season and look to generate sales against that lineup. “A few years ago, the digital companies said, ‘we want some of that money,’” Warburton says. “It was Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and their goal was to get some of the TV money. They said, ‘If we could replicate what the TV does and lay a base of business in advance, that would be great.’ The magazine publishers have also joined the party.”
Ironically, Warburton said, magazine media companies already have strong relationships with marketers, and in that sense, the NewFronts are not crucial. “Print publishers already have relationships,” she says. “I used to work on L’Oreal. The publishers had amazing relationships with our CEO. My TV heads of sales never met them. You guys have great relationships!”
The strategic value of in the NewFronts for magazine media companies is in communicating a message of change, Warburton says. “There’s more and more spend going to digital every day,” she says. “Print publishers want to be perceived as digital.”
Another well-known agency executive, who sought anonymity, was less convinced. “The duration of the events themselves is way too long—two-and-a-half weeks, three per day,” the executive tells min. “That’s something that most people’s schedules can’t handle. And unless you’re seeing the entire schedule, it’s very hard to compare the offerings.”
What’s more, the executive says, “I don’t believe that even 1 percent of the programming ever gets sold. I don’t think there’s incredible demand for the supply [of new video and social offerings] they are creating. The NewFronts are turning out to be more of a capabilities-and-company-transformation conversation.”
Magazine media companies that do choose to participate in the NewFronts should have a better sense of what they are, added the executive. “It was ludicrous that Condé Nast was trying to compete with the television marketplace,” the executive says. “Everyone thinks bigger is better. Companies should position themselves with a unique selling proposition that we can’t get from other platforms. That’s also what’s missing.”
The core mission of the NewFronts is to help brands and agencies reach consumers via digital video, says Anna Bager, SVP and general manager for mobile and video at the IAB. Attendees learn what’s new in content trends, data, platforms, and more. Brands and agencies can compress conversations into two short weeks, rather than having meetings and calls spread out over weeks and months.
The NewFronts have grown, Bager says, from an initial five-day series of events in 2013 to a 10-day program in 2016 and 2017, and this year had a record-breaking number of media buyers and advertisers in attendance. “Year after year,” she says, “we’ve seen the NewFronts inspire bigger amounts of budget allocation. We also hear from NewFront presenters that new relationships begin because of marketers’ attendance at the presentations.”
Indeed, Bager says, the IAB’s 2016 Digital Video Ad Spend Study indicates that nearly nine out of 10 advertisers increased digital video budgets as a result of attending the NewFronts. The study also shows that buyers planned to allocate more of their original digital video budget at this year’s NewFronts than ever before.
Media company participants universally speak favorably about the NewFronts. “We’ve only been participating for two years, but it seems like the NewFronts have evolved,” says Hearst Digital Media CRO Todd Haskell. “[Now] it’s about us sharing our perspective on the content priorities we will be focusing on for the rest of the year, and why they can be so compelling for advertisers. We think this is a great service to our most valuable advertisers, who spent two hours engaging with Hearst’s brands in a really meaningful way.”
Similarly, Condé Nast CRO of Industry and Agency Lisa Valentino says the NewFronts are important for framing opportunities around CN’s products. “We are a company with limited supply and high-demand audiences,” she says. “This is an opportunity to focus the marketplace on our progress with the consumer, as well as our programming strategies, and spotlight our key partnerships and innovations. The feedback was incredibly positive, and yes, we’ve already started writing business.”
Bloomberg Media Global Chief Revenue Officer Keith Grossman is equally bullish. “The NewFronts provide tremendous value when presenting smart content that adds value or utility to partner objectives,” he says. “There is little-to-no value, in my opinion, when the presentations are treated solely for ‘entertainment’ purposes. In 2016, Bloomberg Media successfully monetized nearly every idea presented at our event. Our intent is to do the same in 2017.
“To that extent,” Grossman adds, “it’s hard to discount the efficacy of the event itself. While there is a lot of effort that goes into these presentations, the results speak for themselves.”
Perhaps Grossman’s reference to the low-value of entertainment-based presentations was what Translation Executive Director of Context Strategy Chaucer Barnes had in mind when he said he still attends the NewFronts though he’s not a buyer anymore.
“The general trend is that people overreach for audience and overreach for ad spend with the same assets, which forms a grotesque composite: content that wasn’t made for anyone in particular, with really ostentatious brand placement,” he says. “It’d be better if they did one or the other. A few do. But then, you don’t have to show up to NewFronts to know who they are, or find out what they have.”