NewFronts: Yahoo, Xbox, Crackle Tout Fare, But Details Are Scarce

Nancy Tellem

Xbox chases Netflix, Yahoo courts comedy and Sony's Crackle talks up its "Seinfeld"-sized hit.

This story first appeared in the May 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

"It's getting there." That was the feeling at the NewFronts, April's digital video pitch in New York. No outlet has Netflix-style buzz, but all touted strategies to capture a slice of the online pie. Predicts ad buyer John McCarus, if online video spending were to reach $1 billion in 2014, "that would be a statement."

Imitating Netflix

Xbox Entertainment Studios, well-funded and run by CBS vet Nancy Tellem, is considered one of the few platforms that could challenge Netflix in longform, non-ad-driven series. But she offered few updates on its live-action Halo from Steven Spielberg. Sources say the studio -- which only revealed a handful of projects with actual premiere dates -- has been unsure of how to structure its deals, making for a slow process. "It's been a lot of heavy lifting," says exec vp Jordan Levin.

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Joining the Party

After a shortform hit in The Bachelor spoof Burning Love, Yahoo is expanding into longform with scripted projects from Paul Feig and Mike Tollin. Many griped that the tech giant's presentation failed to impress, though video programming chief Bonnie Pan notes, "This is just the beginning."

Trying to Reinvent

The fresh faces of Hulu -- new CEO Mike Hopkins and content head Craig Erwich -- had no new series to tout. Instead, they renewed freshman comedy Deadbeat and revealed premiere dates for returning series. Hopkins says Hulu will triple its marketing budget in the next year. "This is a transition year," says Vuguru CEO Larry Tanz, who has sold his studio's The Booth at the End to Hulu. "Developing a slate takes time."

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Sustaining Status Quo

Sony-owned Crackle has been a digital player for a decade, but only recently has it found a hit in Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. GM Eric Berger calls it "a fantastic anchor" and renewed it for four seasons with sponsor Acura. Sony's distribution prowess allows Crackle's slate, which includes Sports Jeopardy! and Tightrope from executive producer Bryan Cranston, to take more risks. Notes Tanz, "Their shows are less about what advertisers want and more about what audiences want."

Surprising Stability

After three years of originals, AOL has emerged as a stable player. Its formula is shortform, unscripted video with a celebrity anchor, such as My Hero with Zoe Saldana. Video president Ran Harnevo picked up 12 new series. Says Principato Young digital vp Corey Moss, "They know who they are, and they do it really well."