NewFronts: Yahoo, BuzzFeed Bail as Digital Pitchfest Loses Steam

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A look at who's in, who's out and who's scaling back at this year's presentations.

Each spring, digital media companies descend on New York to woo advertisers at NewFronts, their version of TV's Upfronts. But now, some key players are forgoing glitzy events, even though the digital video business continues to grow with advertisers expected to spend $11.7 billion on online video in 2017, according to eMarketer.

Yahoo and BuzzFeed are skipping the presentations (which kick off May 1 for two weeks and have slots for more than 30 companies), making way for new presenters such as Twitter. Others including AOL have settled on more modest events.

"It's not surprising that one or two of these companies have decided to go a different route," IAB senior vp and general manager of mobile and video Anna Bager tells THR. "The video marketplace is growing and changing very fast. There are changes [to the schedule] every year."

But the shift also reflects a maturation of the digital video industry, especially as it becomes more fragmented. Many companies are opting to host smaller, more intimate gatherings with brands and buyers to offer up personalized pitches. Changes to the schedule also highlight critiques that have plagued the NewFronts for years, with some digital executives questioning the value of shoehorning the event into a traditional TV development cycle that barely applies to broadcast and cable anymore, and certainly not to digital video, as programming increasingly is released year-round.

Even so, Bager says more than 16,000 RSVPs are expected. "All the clients and buyers are in town," she adds, a result of the event's proximity to the broadcast Upfronts that kick off May 15 with presentations from NBC and Fox. "It's a good time to do business."

The NewFronts, now in its sixth year, does have several return presenters, including YouTube, Conde Nast Entertainment, Defy Media and Vice. Many companies acknowledge that the event provides a big stage from which to share their message. "It gives us a powerful opportunity to tell our story," says Andrew Snyder, senior vp of video strategy and development at Time Inc., which is coming back for its fourth presentation this year. "As we continue to expand our commitment to quality video programming, NewFronts represents the single biggest opportunity to get that story out." He says the event is already on track to be Time's highest attended.

WHO'S OUT Founding partner Yahoo, currently in the process of selling itself to Verizon, announced March 16 that it would forgo the annual event in favor of local presentations around the country, a move chief revenue officer Lisa Utzschneider said would be more "personalized for each advertiser's objectives." Also deciding not to participate are digital studios Fullscreen, StyleHaul and Machinma, which a spokeswoman says will unveil its new strategy under Warner Bros. Digital Networks in early summer. And BuzzFeed said it would host a separate, more experiential event, though it still plans to work with IAB as a new member of the group's Digital Video Center board of directors.

WHO'S IN Twitter is the first social media platform to take over a NewFronts time slot, with vp Matthew Derella calling it the "ultimate culmination" of its push into live and original video through deals with the NFL, Bloomberg and BuzzFeed. Other newcomers include BBC.com, Judy McGrath's Astronauts Wanted and Group Nine Media, which is hosting its coming out since rolling up Thrillist, NowThis and other digital brands last year. Meanwhile, after closing its doors to media in 2016, Maker Studios is reopening its presentation as part of the newly integrated Disney Media division.

WHO'S SCALING BACK Instead of hosting a live presentation, Studio71 is inviting attendees to a virtual event. And AOL, one year after it took over much of South Street Seaport for an outdoor festival, is hosting a closed-door event. A spokeswoman for the Verizon-owned company called the change "a deliberate shift in our strategy to a high-touch, intimate dinner with clients."

A version of this story first appeared in the April 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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