NewFronts: 'Fault in Our Stars' Author John Green Rocks Ad Buyers With Candid YouTube Pitch
While some advertisers found his remarks encouraging — he said that ad buyers who focus on TV "risk losing relevance with an entire generation" — others were offended.
This story first appeared in the May 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Amid the celebrities, live music and boozy afterparties of the two-week digital media pitchfest known as NewFronts, it was a speech from author and YouTuber John Green that caused the biggest stir. "I'm not here to educate or kiss up to you," said Green, author of best-seller The Fault in Our Stars, to about 2,400 of Madison Avenue's most important executives April 27 at Brandcast, YouTube's annual party. "I'm here to scare you."
Green, 37, then detailed how he and brother Hank Green, 34, known as the VlogBrothers, have become less reliant on advertising and warned ad buyers who focus on TV — which he called the "distraction business" — that they soon will fall behind: "You risk losing relevance with an entire generation who look to video not just for distraction but also for engagement and connection."
Digital execs and industry supporters since have hailed the talk as an important message to the ad industry, which typically has been able to extract low rates for online video because of the glut of inventory. "It was a seminal speech," says BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield. "In a world of time-shifted and ad-free viewing, brands need to figure out how they continue to reach consumers."
Some advertisers found Green's remarks encouraging — "These conversations are part of what NewFronts are about," says Mindshare chief strategy officer Jordan Bitterman — but others were offended by the blunt message, and Green noted later on Twitter that ad execs kept their distance at the afterparty. One top buyer complained to THR that few NewFronts pitches take that hardball approach: "It was disappointing to hear."
This year's Brandcast doubled as YouTube's 10th birthday celebration, where the Google-owned service avoided big reveals to focus on a hard sell to advertisers: YouTubers are huge stars who drive considerable audience engagement. The company, facing aggressive competition for talent and eyeballs from video platforms like Facebook, drove home the power of its community by populating the first few rows of New York's Theater at Madison Square Garden with screaming fans.
With that coveted young audience on its side, YouTube probably doesn't need to worry about ruffling feathers. "We deliver good and bad messages to partners all the time," says YouTube head of business Robert Kyncl. "Presenting facts and speaking truthfully is the best thing for our long-term relationships. There's no hyping things."