YouTube Won the 2019 NewFronts Because of What it Didn't Say

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Last year, Twitter won the newfronts because of what it said: It announced an amazing number of partnerships, showing that it was the platform every publisher wanted to partner with It was the belle of the ball, the hub of the wheel.

This year, YouTube won the newfronts—not because of what it said, but because of what it didn't say.

BlogBrand safety was a hot topic during NewFront Week—as it has been for years now—with most publishers emphasizing just how sanitized-for-your-protection their content is. A few years back, when brand safety was a fresher nightmare, YouTube found itself in the middle of an advertiser-led pullout. CEO Susan Wojcicki took great pains at the 2017 Brandcast to emphasize just how much her company was doing to ensure premium advertisements were never again run against problem content.

Funny, though: YouTube's brand safety flare-ups didn't stop. They keep cropping up and still do. We likely haven't seen the last of them. So did Wojcicki deliver an even more emphatic mea culpa this year?

No, she barely said a thing. A few words on the company using human moderation and scrubbing the comments, on being laser-focused on fixing the problem. A quick 60 seconds and she was done. I don't think she even said the words "brand safety."

That's because she didn't have to. After all, she and the advertisers know YouTube is the biggest game by far. While advertisers might make a show of leaving YouTube when a scandal erupts, they come back. And they spend more money when they do.

After those brief words, the Brandcast rolled on with an impressive display of bigness. Where other presentations cut back, YouTube went overboard. Where others stuck to facts and figures, YouTube offered massive production numbers that filled the stage and aisles of Radio City Music Hall. It offered Hollywood stars, major music acts, and plenty of YouTube-grown young talent. It was a bravura chest-thumping display that made everyone else look weak and cautious. We're too big to grovel, YouTube said: Hear us roar.

By the way, the most significant moment of the week was also about brand safety, but it came from Vice. The publisher boldly announced to advertisers that it would no longer allow them to blacklist 25 terms and phrases that largely touched on gender, racial, and religious identity when trying to create a safe environment for their ads. Doing so hurts diversity, it said, and even hurts the people who implement those blacklists. Vice got cheers for the announcement on Wednesday, then again on Thursday when CEO Nancy Dubuc talked about it at the Digitas NewFront. It's the kind of moment that could start a movement. And it should.

Photo: King of Reggaetón Daddy Yankee at the 2019 YouTube Brandcast on May 2, 2019, at Radio City Music Hall

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