Yahoo’s 2015 NewFronts presentation for brands and advertisers was an impressive piece of showmanship.
It was held at an august venue, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, turned corporate hip for the occasion with thumping EDM music provided by superstar deejay Steve Aoki. The hosting duties were handled with smirking wit by Joel McHale, star of the sitcom “Community,” which it had rescued to produce a six season of following its cancellation by NBC. And it had appearances by other big names who had signed on for Yahoo shows, including Katie Couric, Simon Cowell, Naomi Campbell and the aforementioned Aoki, as well as Yahoo CEO Mariss Mayer.
A year later, Couric is still standing with Yahoo as “global news anchor,” but it’s as if the rest of the presentation fell victim to a brutal and bloody ambush. It’s hard to say precisely how many of the 18 series Yahoo announced at the 2015 NewFronts were ever seen by viewers, but the casualties were numerous, and the ones that survived did so at great cost. The company took a $42 million write-down for its original shows “Other Space,” “Sin City Saints” and “Community,” and pulled the plug on numerous others, including the sitcom “The Pursuit,” “The Ultimate D.J.,” produced by Cowell, and the “I Am Naomi” talk show hosted by Campbell.
This year, Yahoo will be taking a more low-key approach at the NewFronts, with a closed-door affair for advertisers and brands. Obviously, Yahoo has its own set of unique problems — it’s in the midst of a 15% reduction in its workforce as Mayer tries to find a buyer for the company — but the go-big, promise-them-everything strategy it used at the NewFronts is a common one, and so are the results.
Pick a programming slate unveiled at last year’s NewFronts and google some of the titles. Often, you’ll find that the only mentions of the programs are articles relating to the original announcement.
Gaming-centric multi-platform production company Machinima put out a good portion of what it promised at last year’s NewFronts, including the new shows “Bacca Chronicles,” “BFF” and “Sanity Not Included,” and it’s in production on an additional show (“Happy Wheels”) and in active development on another (“RoboCops”). But the most intriguing series on its proposed slate — “High School 51,” created and produced by Roberto Orci, and “Creepy Pasta,” an anthology of horror shorts from Clive Barker (“Helllraiser”) — failed to materialize. Ditto for “D.C. Hero Project,” “Dial H for Hero” and the second season of “Justice League: Gods and Monsters.”
Collective Digital Studio never delivered the “Epic Meal Time” spin-off “Epic Tool Time” or the proposed series “Fake Company Incorporated,” in which Charlie Todd and the Improv Everywhere team were to surprises unsuspecting workers with weird office environments. But its proposed “Prank Week” programming block was upgraded, not shelved, and turned into a feature, “Natural Born Pranksters,” released on April Fools’ Day, and its adaptation of James Patterson’s best-seller “Maximum Ride” will be premiering soon.
More significant for Collective Digital Studio is its change in ownership and name. It was purchased by ProSiebenSat.1 Group in July 2015 and merged with its German multi-channel network Studio71. It will hold its NewFront presentation under that name on May 10.
Many of the companies presenting at this year’s NewFronts are drastically different than they were last year. Within weeks of AOL’s 2015 NewFront event, Verizon announced it was purchasing the company for $4.4 billion. So whether or not its programming slate (which included series such as “Park Bench with Steve Buscemi” and a second season of “Making a Scene with James Franco”) was a home run isn’t nearly as significant as the fact that it’s now part of a telecommunications giant that is making huge investments in mobile-friendly programming, including the recently-launched Go90 platform.
Disney-owned Maker Studios has also undergone some serious changes in recent months. Its CEO Ynon Kreiz left in January following the close of Maker’s post-Disney acquisition earn-out period. He was preceded in August by chief content officer Erin McPherson (above), who was the star of Maker’s NewFront presentation last year.
So, just remember, no matter how big or important anyone appears during this year’s NewFront presentations, they could be mere moments away from exiting the stage, either by walking through the wings or a taking a metaphorical nosedive into the orchestra pit.
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