By Tom Bannister
Every year, the NewFronts has an existential crisis, along with offering some innovative initiatives aimed at helping marketers conquer this elusive creature known as the internet. In a medium that, unlike TV, refuses to be tamed, where new habits, sub-cultures, technologies and entrepreneurs change the landscape every few months, much of this year’s commentary predicting doom seems overly hysterical and partisan. There are a lot of well-conceived branded content tools and initiatives that are attempts at tackling some of the web’s biggest advertising challenges, effecting all brands, whether they have large TV budgets or not. Here is a quick overview of both strengths and weaknesses of branded content approaches at the NewFronts:
In-House Ad Agencies
Digital publishers are well positioned to use insights, data and experience from running their own content businesses in creation of publisher-platform-centric branded content, which numerous reports are showing is, for the moment, a good antidote for viewers seeking to evade interruptive advertising. Among others at the NewFronts, the New York Times continues to shift editorial talent into on-air and brand-facing. BuzzFeed positioned itself as a viral ad agency for brands who “haven’t figured it out,” and Machinima launched an esports agency called Mach 1. As CEO of Studio 71, Reza Izad said, “I publish between 1,800 and 2,000 videos a week at a minimum. I’ve just got more data on what’s working and what consumers are engaging with.”
Competing With Ad Agencies
By producing the creative, both MCNs and digital publishers run the risk of encroaching onto traditional agencies’ (creative and media) turf. Brands spend time and money choosing their agencies of record to exclusively represent their interests, and digital publishers would benefit from finding a way to fit more comfortably into that dynamic and co-create branded content.
Influencers At Scale
As Douglas Holt recently pointed out, digital stars did a much better job at re-imagining entertainment for new platforms like YouTube and Snapchat than either consumer brands or traditional media did. Digital stars have finally reached critical mass and are now massive networks, with communities who will follow their lead, and MCNs have done a good job in adding further scale through packaging and assisting in channel development and growth. Influencers have succeeded because they know what to give their audiences better than anybody else, and as media fragments, audiences prefer to follow personalities and communities rather than corporate brands. Where brands can drive views, but relatively few likes and comments, to YouTube stars, the latter are much more important. Of many examples at NewFronts this year, Fullscreen launched both Fullscreen Creator Network and Brandworks with an initial partnership with Mattel.
Hard To Scale Creative
Influencer campaigns often take a lot of time and handholding to pull off, and ROI is harder to track directly. Google and Facebook have become the Coke and Pepsi of digital advertising, because they found a way to make it turn-key, >New York Times ran the stat that 85% of new digital advertising goes to either Facebook or Google, and The Guardian reported that the total ad income of these two companies is bigger than the entire U.S. TV industry combined. At the NewFronts, YouTube announced a $250 million deal with Magna Global along with new inventory for YouTube Preferred (which looks pretty close to the TV buying experience). Compared to branded content deals, Google and Facebook have made it simple and safe to buy. Yet, in spite of all this, there’s still enough people out there who want a La Croix instead of a Coke, or even a La Croix and a Coke. Is there a way to make influencer campaigns easier for
Investment In Programming
Its not at TV levels yet, but there is much more investment in original digital programming than in previous years and its working. The IAB reported, “U.S. adults watching original video programs online at least once a month has grown to 63 million from 45 million in 2013” and Nielsen said, “Time spent watching traditional TV by consumers 18–24 has dropped roughly 34% between 2011 and 2015.” Most NewFront presentations this year focused on original program announcements, and digital networks are showing desire to lead the way in original IP for new mediums like virtual reality and live, such as AOL’s street facing live VR studio, something brands are demanding more of, but traditional purveyors have no experience in.
No Scarcity/Barrier To Entry
We hear a lot about scarcity at Upfronts versus lack-there-of at NewFronts, but the simple fact is brands don’t need to go through NewFronts (or anybody) to be in public view. Many forward-thinking brands have already become media players. Indeed almost anything a brand now does publicly ends up on the web as some form of branded content, including responding to your canceled flight rants. A glance at everything digital-marketing-related happening last week, but outside purview of NewFronts, demonstates this. But isn’t no-barrier-to-entry thing at some point going to hit TV and film? What happens when a teenager has the same special effects capabilities as J.J. Abrams?
Connection To Traditional Media
Most of the digital networks at NewFronts are either heavily invested in by traditional media or are in fact digital arms of traditional media. THR breaks down the relationships here. Perhaps the future for the Buzzfeeds and Voxs is within a traditional/larger media entity like Comcast, and some like Full Screen (AT&T) , AOL (Verizon) and Washington Post (Amazon) are already there. At NewFronts, Hearst touted their abilities to connect traditional media with their digital assets. There is a lot of discourse around digital publishers handing over control by relying on platforms like Facebook and SnapChat for distribution, but these tech companies in turn live on infrastructure provided by Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. So, in the future, if BuzzFeed is owned by Comcast, who is ultimately down river from whom? It will be interesting to see all the clever methods for damming your neighbors water supply.
A lot Of Money Still In TV
Despite all the hype around the death of TV, the power of habit, legacy relationships and cultural dominance, coupled with remaining “wild west” element to digital, means most of the advertising dollars continue to remain in TV. At the forthcoming Upfronts, it will be interesting to see what types of marketing innovations TV networks will to offer to advertisers outside of traditional spots and how deeply the connections beginning to take root between Upfronts and NewFronts actually go. Interesting times ahead. Ignore the alarmists!
This post was penned by VideoInk publishing partner Branded.tv, a one-stop shop for branded entertainment. Branded.tv features and catalogs the best branded entertainment campaigns from around the world.