An inside look from THR's digital reporter at the two-week confab in New York, as everyone from AOL to Hulu hopes to entice advertisers with their latest content lineups.
Staff writer Natalie Jarvey reports from inside the Midtown Manhattan ballrooms and Chelsea lofts during the Digital Content NewFronts, which will host a record 37 presenters from May 2 through May 13.
Most NewFronts events come with some sort of theme. Fullscreen's pitch on the power of its creators was dubbed "People Are the New Media" while BuzzFeed placed an emphasis on its growing Tasty channel in a presentation called "Welcome to the Feast." But no company took its theme as seriously as Whistle Sports.
The YouTube network's pitch to advertisers was referred to as its Hall of Fame, a nod to the company's sports focus. Whistle Sports fittingly called its inaugural NewFronts presentation last year its Draft Day.
Ahead of the presentation, guests were treated to interactive exhibits (set up in a Hall of Fame style) that showcased each of the company's programs. One booth showed clips of extreme sports series Closed Course, another for Top Ten Trick Shots was set up next to a basketball hoop (though not many media buyers set down their coffee to test out their shooting skills). Meanwhile, the creators behind trick shot channel Dude Perfect answers questions in their booth.
The presentation itself took on a pep rally tone, with dancers, a small marching band and Whistle Sports talent dressed in matching athletic jackets.
"We delivered on our promises last year," said co-founder and president Jeff Urban, who spoke from the arena-style stage with the gusto of a coach prepping his team for the big game. "It's not something you hear every year during an election year, or at NewFronts."
Whistle executives touted that seven of the nine shows it announced last year were made. And it revealed a slate of six new shows, as well as a partnership with Sky on series F2 vs. The USA starring British trick shot masters F2.
The two-year-old company, which has a global social reach of 185 million, works with just 391 millennial sports creators, a decision that CEO John West said was about "quality not quantity." Fourteen of them were in the audience on Wednesday and, in true pep rally fashion, they joined the stage at the end of the show for roll call. Later, Frisbee player and trick shot star Brodie Smith tweeted that Whistle Sports "crushed it" during the event.
With many heavy hitters taking the stage during week one of the NewFronts, week two has traditionally had a reputation for being a little bit quieter. But the expanded calendar this year means that several notable companies will pitch ad buyers during the second week of May, including newcomers like AwesomenessTV, Mashable and Playboy.
Here's THR's coverage plans for the second week. (All times are East Coast.)
Monday, May 9
12 p.m. FULLSCREEN, fresh off the launch of its subscription video service, is sure to tout its positioning as a consumer brand featuring popular online stars.
Tuesday, May 10
12 p.m. STUDIO71, formerly known as Collective Digital Studio, will walk through examples of how it connected brands with top talent like Rhett & Link and Epic Meal Time.
3 p.m. STYLEHAUL has been pushing into the scripted video space and is expected to reveal plans about its upcoming slate of content.
Wednesday, May 11
9 a.m. WHISTLE SPORTS will talk up its position in the online sports content space.
6 p.m. AWESOMENESSTV is hosting its first NewFronts presentation as it expands its business into new areas, including feature-length films.
Thursday, May 12
9 a.m. ACTIVISION BLIZZARD will focus on e-sports just months after launching a division for the competitive video gaming industry.
6 p.m. NOWTHIS is expected to pitch advertisers on why its short-form, socially distributed content is a recipe for success.
Friday, May 13
12 p.m. PLAYBOY presents for the first time as it re-brands as a property focused less on showing skin.
3 p.m. MASHABLE will surely address its recent pivot into video content following a large investment from Turner.
Hulu brought the star power Wednesday morning at its upfront event. The streamer tapped Broad City creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson to host the event and also invited stars from a number of its shows up on stage.
The presentation featured many jokes clearly aimed at the brands and marketers in the audience, as well as a few subtle jabs at Hulu. Many of the gags brought big laughs from the audience, while a few prompted uncomfortable chuckles. The Hollywood Reporter has compiled some of the more memorable lines:
Glazer and Jacobson cozied up to the audience with some flattery at the start of the show. "This room of powerful ad women and their eye candy is eager to hear our thoughts on their most coveted 18-to-34 demo," Glazer said, to laughs.
But they also made it clear they were there for the money. "It is 9 in the a.m. We only got up this early because we truly believe in the future of Hulu," said Glazer, with Jacobson continuing, "and more importantly they paid us a shit ton of money."
The pair, whose Broad City streams on Hulu after airing on Comedy Central, also managed to get in a few jabs at the streamer. "Millennials definitely watch Hulu. That's for sure," said Jacobson, to which Glazer responded: "I couldn't tell you whose password I'm using but I am using it."
The creators of Hulu original Difficult People, Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, got a bit more colorful during their appearance onstage alongside executive producer Amy Poehler. They appeared to off-script several times but stuck to their usual pop-culture themed humor, getting in a few jabs about Donald Trump and questioning whether Hulu should stop calling its employees Hulugans and, instead, refer to them as Hulu Hoopers. "People like our show but we're not like Lemonade," Klausner said, prompting Poehler to ask the audience how many people had yet to see the Beyonce visual album. The moment tied in nicely with Hulu's new ad campaign about how there's so much TV that sometimes people have to pretend to be caught up on popular shows.
Mindy Kaling, whose The Mindy Project has been renewed for another season on Hulu, joked about her ability to integrate advertisements into the show. "I will deliver a baby with a PBR," she said. "I will take some Charmin toilet paper and wrap it around myself as I make out with some white actor."
She also noted that being an employee of a tech company isn't so bad. "As it turns out, the streaming life is pretty sweet," she noted. "And now I can tell people I work at a tech startup, which honestly is a way more believable career for an Indian-American woman than lead actress in a romantic comedy."
At the end of the show, after an appearance from Hugh Laurie and a taped message from Ron Howard and Paul McCartney, the Broad City stars buttered up the audience one last time. When Jacobson said she'd learned a lot from the presentation, Glazer added that she "learned that advertisers are the most important people in the world."
Rain threatened to put a damper on AOL’s outdoor NewFront event Tuesday night, but skies cleared in time for the tech company’s thousands of guests to swarm the interactive experience.
Stretched across four city blocks at South Street Seaport the event shoot up the traditional NewFront experience by doing away with a formal presentation and, instead, letting advertisers and marketers experience AOL’s brands first-hand.
A replica of the set for AOL’s Build series, which features live interviews with influencers and celebrities every day, featured an interview with electronic group Years & Years, TechCrunch taught guests how to fly drones, Engadget editors walked people through a virtual reality experience on HTC’s Vive headset and The Huffington Post transported people to a live “oasis” complete with a bed for napping.
Food booths set up throughout the event proffered everything from chicken schnitzel to “power waffles.”
The event, which was conceived by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, ended on a musical note, with performances from Snoop Dogg (and star of AOL series Coach Snoop) and Demi Lovato.
The crowds were big, a total of 3,500 people attended, and the reviews were mixed. One buyer called it “a gigantic block party” with lines that made it hard to interact with the booths. Another attendee was overheard raving that “the best event has happened," noting that "Snoop was awesome."
BuzzFeed had a little fun with its NewFront event on Monday, May 2, by letting its executives and talent choose the songs playing in the background as they walked on stage.
CEO Jonah Peretti — whom the announcer, in keeping with the event's Welcome to the Feast theme, called to the stage by calling him "the ever scrumptious Jonah Peretti" — chose to start things off with "Live Your Life," the 2008 single from T.I. that featured Rihanna. The Hollywood Reporter asked him about the song choice after the event and he responded that it was inspired by the topic of his speech, which focused on how BuzzFeed's varying forms of content are all meant to connect with consumers on an individual level. The song's lyrics, after all, are all about just living your life.
Other walk-out songs included Celine Dion ballad "My Heart Will Go On" for the stars of BuzzFeed series The Try Guys and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" for president Greg Coleman.
And what about BuzzFeed Motion Pictures president Ze Frank? That would be Kendrick Lamar's "King Kunta." He explained: "I just love that song. It's got a sick beat and the video is killer."
Digital publishers and video producers are flocking to New York for the NewFronts, which kick off Monday and run for two weeks in between the cable and broadcast TV UpFronts. There are a number of new presenters this year but two companies, Yahoo and Maker Studios, have opted for more “intimate” gatherings. (That means no press invited.) No matter, there are more than enough events to keep this reporter’s schedule jam packed. Here’s THR’s coverage plans for the first week. (All times are East Coast.)
Monday, May 2
12 p.m. BUZZFEED will trot out its talent and showcase food channel Tasty in an event they are dubbing The Feast.
6 p.m. REFINERY29's theme will be “claiming power” as it highlight its multi-platform approach to content for women.
Tuesday, May 312 p.m. DEFY is expected to show off new opportunities from its brands, including Smosh, Clevver and ScreenJunkies.
3 p.m. CNE has a lot of brands for which it can make shows, but will it talk about how digital video hub The Scene is doing?
6 p.m. AOL is changing things up with this year’s presentation, which will bring guests an interactive experience stretched across several blocks of South Street Seaport for a more interactive experience.
Wednesday, May 4
9 a.m. HULU is expected to reveal its plans for an over-the-top streaming service that bundles broadcast and cable channels together at its Madison Square Garden showcase.
12 p.m. POPSUGAR will place special focus on emerging video platforms like Facebook and Snapchat this year.
6 p.m. HEARST is a new addition to the NewFronts calendar after a year that saw it acquire a minority stake in AwesomenessTV and form a joint venture with Verizon to create mobile video brands.
Thursday, May 5
11:30 a.m. CNN’s Jeff Zucker will talk up Great Big Story, the mobile and social video network that launched last October.
6 p.m. YOUTUBE’s signature event is moving to the Javits Center this year and is sure to be full of sizzle and special guest performances.
Friday, May 6
9 a.m. MACHINIMA will host a smaller event to talk up its role in the growing e-sports market.
3 p.m. VICE used last year’s presentation to preview its then-unannounced cable channel, but don’t expect the edgy brand to tout ratings, which won’t be released until the end of summer.