NewFronts West: The 8 key takeaways from the 2-day event



Why it’s important?

Advertiser investment in original digital video has nearly doubled over the last three years, and this growth will continue to accelerate for the foreseeable future.This presents great opportunities for brands, but they must be at the forefront of trends and emerging standards in order to build a content strategy that is timely and relevant for consumers.

As original founders of the Content NewFronts, Digitas continues to hold a leading voice in the evolution and vitality of the premium digital video content marketplace. Digitas’ Scott Donaton lead a panel that focused on what brands need to do to keep their seat at the table in an ever-changing media landscape — from the storytelling to the story selling.

The panel tackled how and where brands can add value to people’s lives now that consumers have the ability to block, skip and ignore advertising, and have shown willingness to pay premiums to access content they want, ad-free.

There’s a 3 minute video summary from Scott Donaton below, or you can read on for a deeper dive into the trends that emerged from the 2-day event.

1. Publishers vs. Influencers: Blur the Line

Marketers mostly view “digital publishing” and “influencer marketing” as separate areas of investment. However, NewFronts West illustrated that those lines have blurred. To elaborate, of the 60+ programming announcements across all NewFronts presentations, >75% were tied directly to a digital influencer or mainstream celebrity.

Digital publishing companies are editorial-driven and influencer platforms rely on technology to align brands with influencers, but the end result for marketers is essentially the same: content that uses an influencer’s likeness, tone and social following to create and distribute “authentic” branded experiences.

Takeaway 1: Marketers should consider influencer marketing and content marketing as a single category of investment heading into 2019 and evaluate potential partners accordingly.

2. Performance Content: Shoppable & Measurable

Digital content investment continues to grow across the advertiser spectrum, but the elephant in the room continues to be measurement against ROI.

Measuring content ROI varies by publisher, as each offers a solution centred around the areas in which they excel. Key to solving this issue will be in developing a consistent, intuitive framework that makes sense to marketers.

Shoppable content that allows consumers to explore and purchase directly through a content experience has great potential to connect a brand’s investment with net impact on driving sales. Presenters including Snap, Vudu and Meredith introduced shoppable content products at their events.

Takeaway 2: Shoppable content products provide the most intuitive solution to-date for measuring ROI of content investment, leading DR-focused advertisers to expand content marketing efforts to take advantage of these capabilities.

3. Data-Driven Content: Does it Really Matter (yet)?

“Data-driven Content Strategy” took 2018 by storm – the trend that programming decisions, historically led by human editorial teams, are giving way to machine-learned insights.

Looking forward, digital publishers are expanding their machine learning capabilities to branded content. The New York Times, Vice, Viacom Digital Studios and BBC News, all highlighted approaches toward deploying data as an ideation tool to align branded content concepts with a marketer’s desired audience. This approach will only accelerate as digital publishers contextualize their data sets with increasing effectiveness.

Takeaway 3: The infusion of data into content planning surely benefits advertisers, although a piece of the puzzle remains elusive: quantifiable ROI. Widespread quantifiable ROI for marketers will unlock spend once marketers can link data-driven content approaches to incremental returns. That game-changing capability is on the horizon, but the marketplace is still waiting for a framework that will push the industry forward.

4. Digital Originals: More Abundant, More Micro, More Impactful

Media companies are investing in original content at an aggressive rate. According to the IAB, “annual average spend on original digital video advertising grew 108% between 2015 and 2017”.

Producing original content at this rate necessitates a change in strategy, and the NewFronts West presentations illustrated one key change – moving from a “macro approach,” launching original content initiatives that appeal to the widest array of advertisers and audience segments to a “micro approach” where each show appeals to fewer brands/categories and a more truly niche audience segment.

Takeaway 4: This changing landscape is a win for marketers, as a trend towards micropublishing makes it feasible for brands to align with better relevant original content, without the cost or resources needed to build out entirely bespoke brand specific integrations.

5. Content Integrations: Ideas Win Battles, Execution Wins the War

There was a persistent focus on “servicing the client.” Digital media companies are wising up to the reality that a killer branded content idea will open the door, but poor execution in working with agency/client teams will close it quickly and likely lock it for good.

In a branded content industry lacking in differentiation between vendors, prolonged success will ultimately boil down to how seamlessly and effectively custom content programs are executed. It’s long past due for media companies to recognize this reality, but NewFronts West made it clear that customer service may be an ultimate differentiator.

Takeaway 5: The market for original digital content is highly competitive and fragmented; vendors are rightfully turning to client servicing as a point of differentiation. Marketers should lean in to this industry dynamic and use as leverage in negotiating both commercial terms and strategic advantages (i.e. increased usage rights or no. of content assets).

6. Creative Agency Aspirations, Through Working Media

In the super-competitive world of publishing, forward-looking companies are transforming their businesses to more closely align with the explicit needs of advertisers.

Presenters highlighted increasingly-generous content usage rights, creating more assets for brands to utilize cross-platform (financed through working media), and strategically de-coupling their editorial voice from their ad products in an effort to expand reach beyond a presenter’s owned & operated(O&O)properties.

The benefit for brands is two-fold: (1) a robust suite of assets delivered efficiently through working media dollars and (2) a risk mitigated testing ground where brands “have multiple at-bats” to find the content themes and accompanying creative that resonate most with the brand’s target customer.

Takeaway 6: As digital production costs continue to drop, producers will evolve into offering more creative services. Marketers will gain as they are able to test content and creative reception in a cost effective manner, without sacrificing quality.

7. Brand Safety: From Buzzword to Strategic Differentiator

Brand safety is routinely highlighted during sales pitches, but few companies lay out a framework for how they plan to address this issue. The NewFronts West were no different with nearly every presenter ending their presentations with “… in a brand safe environment.”

This approach was noticeable until Vice announced their contextual brand safety solution in partnership with Oracle Data Cloud. Oracle’s Contextual Intelligence platform will analyse content and assign a brand safety score – brands will then have the option to allow or block ads based on the score. Vice’s catalyst for this initiative was a review of terms most often blacklisted by advertisers (e.g. Asian, Muslim, gay, inter-racial), which lead to the realization that status quo maybe more harmful than helpful to brands.

Takeaway 7: Vice effectively kicked off a brand safety arms race with their announcement, and more companies will follow suit in building real solutions to address the real issue of brand safety. This will ultimately be a huge win for brands.

8. Podcasts: Test into Opportunity

Podcasting continues to pick up significant steam across consumers, media companies and marketers.Traditionally, increased consumer engagement means increased demand from marketers, which drives increased programming investment by media companies. With Podcasts, the unique benefit is that content is significantly less expensive and resource-intensive to produce compared to video – creating an opportunity to test consumer appetite for programming at lower financial risk.

Traditional print publishers, already operating on razor-thin margins, are leaning in to podcasts as a testing ground for content. Both The LA Times (“Dirty John”) and New York Times (“The Daily”) were launched as podcasts, and are now being expanded to television.

Takeaway 8: In 2019, marketers should utilize a similar hedge approach towards investment in programming, using an initial investment in podcasts as a testing ground for the viability of content themes against key addressable audiences.



If you have any questions about the event, or the content above, please contact Jeremy Cohen (