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As Online Video Gets Bigger, Newfront Presentations Get Smaller

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For tech writers covering the online video space, the 2-week newfront season in New York is a treat, a chance to spend our days rolling into enormous parties, pretending that we have something in common with all the ad executives wearing suits that cost thousands of dollars.

In between helping ourselves to one more cocktail and one more slider, we’re expected to give some meaning to what we’re seeing. Newfronts are all about online publishers pushing upcoming series to advertisers, and the overall trends are for stars to get bigger, ad support to get deeper, and the whole market to become more attractive to viewers.

While the events are still fun, this year I noticed what might be the start of a trend: Newfront presentations are getting smaller.

Well, some of them at least. Take the AOL NewFront, for example. Since it started holding these events, AOL has signaled its seriousness about online video by staging elaborate newfronts and stocking them with celebs from its upcoming series. Last year it hired a ferry to ship half of New York media to a giant warehouse in Brooklyn for its show. This year, AOL found a spectacular location at 4 World Trade Center—but hosted about a third as many people.

Sure, not every event was downsized. Vice’s newfront, really an 8-hour open bar with a brief announcement in the middle, was about the same as last year. And Yahoo again attempted to dazzle media buyers with glitz at Lincoln Center. YouTube’s BrandCast felt less spectacular than in previous years, but maybe I was just annoyed by The Fault in Our Stars author John Green’s stern lecture to advertisers about why they need YouTube stars more than YouTube stars need them.

One newfront that was undeniably smaller than ever—and by a long shot—was the one hosted by marketing agency DigitasLBi. Keep in mind that Digitas literally invented the newfront. For several years, Digitas held the only one, a half-day event filled with blatant pitches, marketing execs, Hollywood celebs, good food, and high-minded talk about anything but video sales. Even after other publishers joined in, Digitas’ event was the center of newfront season.

This year, the Digitas NewFront was a shadow of that. Only a couple hours long, it was celeb-free and the talk actually centered on video marketing. To quote Goodfellas, “What’s the world coming to?”

To find out, I spoke with Adam Shlachter, chief investment officer for Digitas. Shlachter has been with the company for 3 years and played multiple roles in shaping newfront presentations.

“For us this year, it was about scaling things down and continuing to hone in on the focus of what’s happening, the transformations that are occurring: the media owner space, and the space of content creation, space of distribution, the space of measurements, and the space of new modes of story-making and audience participation,” Shlachter said.

It could be that this scaling down is a sign of the premium online video market maturing. Perhaps hype is giving way to reality. Now that online video is winning awards and audiences are tuning in, maybe the industry doesn’t need to puff itself up with outlandish parties. Maybe the most forward-thinking thing to do now is sit back and reflect on how the industry has grown and where it’s going next.

“With all these events going on and all the noise in the market, I think for us to have a more distinct point of view and take it as an opportunity to have a more intimate conversation is probably more important than just continuing to make it about a bigger and bigger show about us,” Shlachter said.

That’s probably true, but as a poor journalist I’m going to miss the big parties.

This article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “As Online Video Gets Bigger, Newfront Presentations Get Smaller.”

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