14 Top Digital Execs Dish on Biggest Concerns, Favorite Viral Videos and TV Envy

Macey J. Foronda/Buzzfeed; Getty Images
Matthew Henick (BuzzFeed), Amy Emmerich (Refinery29) and George Strompolos (Fullscreen)

THR quizzed leaders at companies from BuzzFeed to Fullscreen about the future of content during the NewFronts.

THE EXECS

Amy Emmerich (Refinery29)
David Grant (PopSugar)
Chad Gutstein (Machinima)
Matthew Henick (BuzzFeed)
Courtney Holt (Maker Studios)
Stephanie Horbaczewski (StyleHaul)
Reza Izad (Studio71)
Jimmy Maymann (AOL)
Martha Nelson (Yahoo)
Dawn Ostroff (Conde Nast)
Keith Richman (Defy Media)
George Strompolos (Fullscreen)
John West (Whistle Sports)
Troy Young (Hearst Magazines)

AT THE END OF NEWFRONTS, THE HEADLINE SHOULD READ …

EMMERICH Live and Snapchat and VR, Oh My!

GRANT Five Years In: Are the NewFronts More Like an Auto Show or a TV Upfront, and Does It Matter?

HENICK We'll All Work for Ellen One Day

HOLT Digital Companies Take Evolved Approach to Solving Advertiser and Consumer Needs Across Landscapes

MAYMANN It's Time to Show, Not Tell

HORBACZEWSKI We Need to Rename NewFronts

STROMPOLOS The 2016 NewFronts Were Just OK Until THIS Happened (clickbait spoiler: Fullscreen presented)

MY FAVORITE VIRAL VIDEO/MEME (NOT FROM MY COMPANY) IN THE PAST YEAR WAS …

MAYMANN "Damn, Daniel."

NELSON "Pandas in the Snow," tied with the cast of The Color Purple singing a Prince tribute. (Now if only I could watch pandas in the snow singing "Purple Rain.")

RICHMAN "Pizza Rat."

GRANT The rise of the "video graphical novelette," telling a news story with the perfect combination of clips, images and words that you can read and watch at the same time, on your phone, with or without sound. It's become a huge form of storytelling on the internet and emphasizes the craft of writing.

EMMERICH Ad Council's "Love Has No Labels."

OSTROFF Any listicle from BuzzFeed.

HENICK "Why You Always Lying," by Nicholas Fraser.

HORBACZEWSKI "Lean On," from Major Lazer & DJ Snake. The music was great, and I'm obsessed with India business and culture.

YOUNG Definitely "Carpool Karaoke."

GUTSTEIN Anything with Donald Trump.

MY BIGGEST CONCERN FOR THE DIGITAL BUSINESS IS …

IZAD Context is everything. Buyers may intellectually understand the consumer shift at hand, but they may not understand the cultural relevance of the content that is being produced for digital platforms. It's a generational shift.

OSTROFF That it's still undervalued. But so was cable back in the day, and we all saw how that worked out.

RICHMAN Lack of standardized metrics for success and comparison.

WEST Buyers and brands not moving as quickly into new platforms as the millennials they are working to engage.

YOUNG Forgetting we work in the world's most dynamic industry during its most dramatic period of change.

EMMERICH That it turns into the TV business of yesterday.

THE FORMAT/PLATFORM THAT'S MY TOP PRIORITY IN 2016 IS …

MAYMANN Live and virtual reality.

EMMERICH Brawlers and Riot, our two new YouTube channels. Facebook Live. Snapchat Discover and virtual reality.

HORBACZEWSKI Always YouTube, but this year Facebook.

OSTROFF Mobile and social is where the world spends time. I'm excited about the potential of scripted VR and our first series, Invisible, which premieres in September.

WEST Branded integrations that engage, amuse or inspire our 14- to 34-year-old sports-fanatic audience. Ad blocking remains a growing challenge to those relying most heavily on digital ads to connect with fans, but branded content solves that problem.

NELSON Live video events, particularly the live streams on Yahoo — 400 sporting events, live political coverage and finance events.

RICHMAN Facebook video.

IN FIVE YEARS, THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY WILL LOOK LIKE …

EMMERICH Diverse, like the actual population surrounding it.

GRANT The division between technology companies and entertainment companies will be completely blurred.

GUTSTEIN Content discovery driven by referral, not search.

RICHMAN Similar, but with fewer unwatched cable channels.

MAYMANN An immersive, multiscreen, multiplatform experience.

WEST Likely with more VR headsets, however, the best content will rise far more quickly to the top, and great creators will be able to break in more places and more ways with fewer hurdles.

NELSON A mountain of cut cords rising from a sea of small channels.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION THAT TRADITIONAL HOLLYWOOD STILL HAS ABOUT YOUR JOB?

HENICK That we are not willing to partner with them.

HORBACZEWSKI That videos shot by real people in their homes aren't some of the most powerful entertainment and marketing content available today.

RICHMAN That we are not serious content producers.

WEST Not realizing how much data drives content decisions — from greenlight to creator selection to where to best amplify on the social channels to integrating live dynamic feedback from usage and performance across all 180 million fans and followers.

IZAD That we make cat videos.

WHAT I ENVY MOST ABOUT THE TV BUSINESS IS …

GRANT The power of inertia, even as it slows.

GUTSTEIN Shrinking audiences equals growing CPMs.

MAYMANN That TV is still the first stop for live ... for now.

NELSON Cable subsidies.

RICHMAN Affiliate and retransmission fees.

HORBACZEWSKI The accepted establishment business terms — we are still building them deal by deal!

STROMPOLOS Simplicity. Advertisers can plan their TV buy in one day and go home by 6 p.m.

WEST Familiarity from brands when making advertising decisions.

YOUNG Waking up Jan. 1 with half their revenue booked. Plus, it's a business where content performance equals revenue performance.

A YEAR FROM NOW, ALL THE NEW OTT/SVOD SERVICES THAT HAVE LAUNCHED WILL BE …

EMMERICH Creating more content for women.

YOUNG Spending a lot to acquire customers.

HENICK Filled with BuzzFeed content.

OSTROFF Training viewers to think differently about how to find content. And giving digital video startups a more level playing ground than they've had in the past.

RICHMAN Spending more on content.

MAYMANN Aggregated into a new bundle.

VICELAND IS …

GRANT Part exercise in ego, part exercise in branding, part puzzle piece in a global content jigsaw puzzle that is really smart about leveraging other people's money.

OSTROFF A great example of the way one brand is producing content differently for different platforms and format.

GUTSTEIN What?? LOL.

STROMPOLOS Proof that the lines between digital and traditional will continue to blur in the future.

HORBACZEWSKI Balls Deep. That is their show, but it is kind of how I feel about this potentially huge business-model flop.

IZAD What is that? I don't have time for TV.

RICHMAN The Sasquatch of the media world. A lot of people talk about it, very few have seen it, and I'm pretty sure it's growing a beard.

IF I DECIDED TO BECOME A SOCIAL MEDIA STAR, I WOULD …

GUTSTEIN Make video of me trying to eat food in one bite.

IZAD Podcast with Ira Glass.

GRANT Be a super-influential media industry guru, issuing pronouncements and PowerPoints from my cozy home office (with my dog Leo) with the power to move the industry.

NELSON Shoot VR travel videos from Michelin three-star restaurants worldwide. With a cat.

STROMPOLOS Freestyle rap battle other CEOs on Facebook Live. (I'll do that now if anyone is game.)

This story first appeared in the May 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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