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What the Evolution of the NewFronts Tells Us About Advertising

 The Digital Content NewFronts, the digital world’s equivalent of TV’s annual Upfronts event,  wrapped up last week in New York City. Much like the digital content it’s designed to promote, this eagerly anticipated event has grown in importance over the years. Consider that the IAB took over the NewFronts from its founder, DigitasLBi, in 2013, and that the NewFronts continue to attract bigger and bigger names from the media world, including YouTube, Hulu, and now even traditional media players like ESPN, Viacom and Disney. In fact, this continued growth of the NewFronts is symbolic of larger changes shaping today’s advertising and media landscape. Here are three big themes to keep in mind.

Digital Is More Important Than Ever
It’s a familiar story by now, but still one that bears repeating: the growing importance of the NewFronts is a direct result of larger shifts in consumer media habits. Those changes in how consumers watch TV and video are impacting how ad dollars are spent: according to eMarketer, US digital video ad spending is expected to account for more than $15 billion in 2018. “People’s expectations for television have changed and we are meeting their expectations,” said Peter Naylor, senior VP of advertising sales for Hulu, in an interview with Broadcasting Cable.

How Advertisers Buy Digital Is Evolving
The growing importance of the NewFronts is also a signal that digital is changing from a “nice to have” add-on into a central focus of today’s media-buying conversation. That means that publishers’ pitch at the NewFronts is now focused on demonstrating their value relative to other competitors, both in the video space and on TV. “While there’s a lot of opportunity and the barriers to entry are lower than ever before, it’s still extraordinarily difficult to create compelling content to drive an audience in a way that is marketer- and advertiser-friendly,” said Hulu’s Naylor. This shift is further emphasized by the fact that digital media can be purchased easily year-round, which means it’s less critical for publishers to secure “upfront” commitments at the event.

TV and Video Continue to Merge
As the NewFronts become less focused on securing ad buying commitments, it also means that more publishers are using the event to present their overall benefits to potential advertisers – no matter the format. This shift is one reason why “traditional” publishers like Viacom and ESPN made a big showing at this year’s digital NewFront festivities. TV giant Viacom used the event to announce the formal launch of a 300-person team focused on original video programming, while ESPN emphasized the network’s scale and wide variety of traditional and digital ad formats. “There’s no doubt that more and more we’re headed towards a world where, especially for the Disneys, Viacoms, NBCUs of the world, you are just having one conversation with clients and it doesn’t so much matter the venue in which you’re having it,” said Scott Donaton, global chief content officer at digital media agency DigitasLBi, in an interview with Digiday.

The importance of the NewFronts is a clear sign of the increasing prominence of digital in the budgets and strategy decisions of today’s advertisers. As more traditional publishers like ESPN and Viacom extend beyond the Upfronts into the NewFront discussion, and publishers change their pitches to buyers, the NewFronts are also symbolic of bigger shifts in the media landscape, a landscape in which the lines between what’s TV and what’s video continue to blur. Ultimately, the end result is better for all, including more ad dollars, more great content, and more consumer attention for everyone involved.