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Insight: Small Screens, Big Dollars


(From the New York Times, April 26, 2012) THE annual spring upfronts, when television peddles its wares to Madison Avenue, has a new twist ahead of the 2012-13 season: Media companies that specialize in online video and other digital delights are adding themselves to the lineup of presentations by broadcast and cable TV outlets.

Last week marked the start of what is being called the Digital Content NewFronts, as new and new-ish faces like AOL, Google (with sibling YouTube), Hulu, Microsoft, Vevo and Yahoo schedule events amid those being held by regular upfront participants like E!, MTV, Oxygen, Scripps Networks Interactive and Syfy.

The goal of the NewFronts, or new upfronts, is to encourage marketers and agencies to spend more money on digital ads, either by increasing budgets or shifting to online media some of the estimated $70 billion a year that is spent on television commercials. Ad spending for online video has been growing strongly, but still totals, by most estimates, less than $2 billion a year.

Initially, the point of having a NewFront was “to beat a drum for change,” Mark Beeching, worldwide chief creative and strategy officer at Digitas, a digital agency owned by the Publicis Groupe, said at the Digitas NewFront on Thursday. “Now, it’s servicing a need.”

The impetus has shifted from “looking for best practices,” he added, to “looking for opportunities.”

Digitas, which has been putting on annual NewFront events since 2008, was instrumental in getting new-media companies to agree to a series of coordinated presentations to be held in late April and early May under the Digital Content NewFronts umbrella.

Some companies with roots in traditional television are even getting into the act. The NBCUniversal division of Comcast, which operates broadcast and cable outlets like Bravo, E!, NBC, Oxygen, Syfy and USA, plans a NewFront event on Tuesday to shine a spotlight on its digital offerings.

To woo Madison Avenue, the participants in the NewFronts are playing up similarities between television shows and digital content, particularly online video. There have been numerous announcements of new original programming, emulating the series format of TV; branded entertainment, in which products are woven into plot lines; and alliances with famous names.

For instance, ABC News and Katie Couric are joining forces with Yahoo for a weekly Web show, “Katie’s Take.” Ms. Couric appeared during the Yahoo NewFront event on Wednesday, turning up during a presentation by Ross B. Levinsohn, executive vice president for global media for Yahoo; she was accompanied by a cameraman and conducted a mock interview of Mr. Levinsohn.

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