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Digitas Expands NewFront Conference, Joins with Google, Microsoft

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With its NewFront conference in New York City, advertising agency Digitas has taken a leading position in the online branded entertainment world. This year, NewFront will expand from a single half-day event to a two week season.

The main purpose of the NewFront conference is connecting online video creators with brands that want to sponsor online shows. As Digitas was planning this year's event, says Colin Kinsella, the CEO for Digitas North America, it learned that several major content creators were planning their own spring events to reach out to brands. Digitas suggested that they work together to create a slate of events.

The result is that Hulu (April 19), Microsoft (April 24), AOL (April 24), Yahoo (April 25), and Google (May 2) will all hold their own events, while the fifth annual Digitas NewFront conference will take place on April 26th.

The NewFront started as an online alternative to television upfronts. Upfronts allow advertisers to see an upcoming season of shows and make ad commitments. Since online video ad buys are more flexible, advertisers don't need to commit to ad buys in the same way. The purpose of newfront conferences (lower case), says Kinsella, is so creators can sense the demand for programming from brands and get their reactions, allowing them to better plan their investments.

The conference expansion is a major move for Kinsella, who says that we're entering "a new era of online video consumption and audience size and scale." As the market grows for original online video, so do the investments, the quality of the shows, and the quality of talent looking to get involved.

This year's Digitas NewFront event will be like those of previous years: a combination of meetings, demos, and panel discussions that go beyond deals and examine the meanings behind the movement. The yearly event positions Digitas not just as a deal-maker for online video, but a thought leader, as well. This year's theme is "Big Content," looking at how content is now a critical tool in a brand's ability to connect with consumers.

The other five newfronts, however, will likely be shorter (two to three hour) presentations of content that the event host is planning. They'll give content sites a way to pitch brands on how they'll reach viewers and what titles they plan to release for the year.

The online video industry "is reaching a point of real scale and impact," notes Kinsella, who say that it will be a $3 billion industry in 2012 and a $7 billion industry in 2015. While that's a fraction of the television industry, there's major growth potential.

"This is the beginning of the next real leap for an era of significance of online video versus television," says Kinsella. "2012 will be the year where TV finds online video has arrived as an equal." 

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