NewFronts West 2019: Trends & Insights

The IAB’s second-ever NewFronts West was held on September 11 and 12 at NeueHouse Hollywood, and this year’s event featured the theme: “Relationships Matter. Take a Stand!” Creators, traditional celebrities, brands, agencies, and publishers convened to share insights and explore the latest innovations in the digital content space. And this was all made possible by one of our own agencies, Digitas, who created the original NewFront back in 2008. In 2012 Digitas co-founded the Digital Content NewFronts as we know them today…

“Hollywood is known as the center of the entertainment world—it’s a place that understands and values storytelling. This is why we are bringing the NewFronts back to L.A., connecting content creators and brands to explore how to tell stories that speak to the causes and issues that consumers care about in these polarizing times.”

  • Patrick Dolan, President

CONTENT MIRRORS SOCIETY:
Representation, Vulnerability, Authenticity and Purpose

NewFronts West 2019 was not immune to the realities of our current social and societal climate. Both in front of the camera and behind it, representation was front and center. BBC News highlighted the 50/50 project, an initiative that aims for at least 50% female representation in all areas of BBC content. Gender representation was the most prevalent topic, but the representation gap between various segments of society were highlighted throughout. Digitas’ Scott Donaton led a panel discussing 5B, a feature length documentary about the world’s first HIV hospital ward in 1980s San Francisco, while SoulPancake leaned into “impact entertainment,” specifically citing the 70MM domestic workers (ie. elderly caregivers, nannies, etc) that have no workers’ rights in the US.

Vulnerability was also a consistent theme throughout NewFronts West. Jamie Lee Curtis opened NewFronts West with a discussion about the importance of showing vulnerability and how that fosters a stronger bond between content creators and an audience. This theme continued throughout, but the most poignant moment was Rainn Wilson asking the audience to Google search “College makes me feel…”; the top auto-completed results: ”depressed,” “like a failure,” “lonely” and “stressed.

TAKEAWAY

Marketers should take cues from society-at-large when developing a content marketing strategy that will engage today’s attention-deprived consumer. As Scott Donaton sums up perfectly, the most impactful branded experience is “content that is worth a viewer’s time and a brand’s investment.” In 2019, society’s passion is aligned with: representation, authenticity, vulnerability and purpose. Marketers should take notice!

BLURRED LINES:
Influencers & Traditional Celebrities

One of the key trends we saw in 2018 was the migration of social influencers beyond the walls of social. Many top influencers expanded their footprint to television, feature film, and more. That trend has continued, to a lesser degree, in 2019, but the new trend is almost exactly the opposite.

More than ever before, traditional celebrities are looking beyond their core outlets and pursuing digital-native ventures. This is not an entirely new phenomenon, as Ellen DeGeneres illustrates clearly. Ellen successfully transformed an hourlong TV show into a digital empire that reaches 215M cross-platform followers, has produced 29 original video series and features an app-based gaming empire played by nearly 60M people.

Replicating that level of success will be difficult, but traditional celebrities are following suit to a much smaller degree. For years, Hollywood by-and-large viewed digital as a second-rate frontier. But, as social influencers continue to grow their share of the overall “popularity pie,” the entire concept of celebrity has changed. Paraphrasing CAA’s David Freeman, the mentality amongst Hollywood’s elite has shifted dramatically, and the general sentiment is “evolve or face irrelevance.”

TAKEAWAY

Historically, a brand’s access to leading celebrities was limited to seven-figure payouts and :30-:60 second commercial spots. Influencer marketing allowed brands to develop authentic relationships with influential people in a user’s native environment. These two worlds are merging, and that opens up tremendous opportunity for marketers to align their message with celebrities in ways we did not think were possible three years ago.

PODCAST DIFFERENTIATED:
The Brand Story Becoming Clear

Podcasting continues its phoenix-esque rise across consumers, media companies and marketers. The big question since podcasting emerged from the ashes has been: Why now? Podcasts have been around since 2004, but only over the last two years has the medium grown into the powerhouse it is today.

The reason is fairly straightforward: Consumers are streaming television ad-free, DVR’ing past commercials, ignoring terrestrial radio ads, and are increasingly blind to banners, newsfeed ads and most other forms of disruptive ads. However, according Art19, podcast consumers listen to at least 85% of every podcast they subscribe to and they pay more attention to podcast ads than any other ad format.

Podcasts also thrive where other formats fall short: the fusion of depth and mobility. Podcast listeners are generally well-educated and affluent; they want to go deep on topics that matter to them and they want to go deep while simultaneously on-the-go. Video simply cannot be consumed by the average person while on the move.

Another underrated aspect of the increased demand for podcasts has been investment in ad capabilities. Art19 boasts 10,000 targetable segments, from “light beer drinkers” to “shop at Nordstrom” to “I prefer cooking at home vs fast food.”

TAKEAWAY

In 2018, it was difficult to articulate the true value of podcast advertising. Fortunately, increased interest and investment has led to a quick evolution in capabilities for marketers. It may not be the best medium for every brand, but for marketers looking for curious and loyal customers, podcasting is growing more attractive with each passing day.

ONLINE VIDEO IS NOW "TV"

All digital video is consumed on three form factors: PC, Mobile or Connected TV. According to Innovid, 60% of digital video was consumed on PC in Q1 2016; that figure fell precipitously to 25% by Q1 2019. Mobile video consumption peaked in Q1 2017 at 50%, and has seen 1-2% annual decline since then. On the flip side, only 7% of digital video was consumed on CTV in Q1 2016; that figure increased to 32% in Q1 2019 and shows no signs of slowing down.

Content creators have taken notice of viewers’ shifting habits, and are vastly increasing their programming for the living room. Jukin Media, for example, has launched seven CTV platform partnerships to date, and now generates 287M monthly minutes watched and an average watch time of 50 minutes. AT&T has taken it a step further, pairing subsidiaries Xandr and CNN Courageous Studios together to produce, distribute and measure powerful storytelling on the largest screen in the house.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Between now and April 2020, the CTV/OTT market will see new entrants, such as Disney+, AppleTV+ HBO Max, and NBCU’s Peacock. Some are ad-supported and others are not, but the message is clear: The living room is back in style.

TAKEAWAY

The term “TV” has traditionally been considered synonymous with linear television. However, with the rise of OTT, consumers now think of ”TV” only as the physical screen in one’s living room; whether content comes through the glass via coaxial cable or broadband internet no longer matters. This has major implications for brands, as CTV/OTT is and will continue to be the fastest growing form factor for digital video. Marketers should follow the viewers’ lead and invest in a digital content strategy that is truly cross-screen.

MUSIC AS A MEDIUM:
More Than Just Audio

Music’s role in popular culture continues to grow beyond the walls of audio. MTV ushered in the multimedia era of music in the 1980s, but little innovation took place in the ensuing years. Only in the last few years, as music festivals have grown into one of the fastest-growing areas of entertainment, did music’s real potential come to the surface.

Vevo took the music video baton from MTV and has developed a video business viewed by 30M users every day. Scale is part of the equation, but the data shows that audience diversity is where music really excels; of the 130M people that consume Vevo music videos in a given month, 18M are African American and 25M are Hispanic.

Music is also a clever medium for brands to tap into societal moments. For example, in the 72 hours following the 2016 election, YouTube views of REM’s “End of the World” skyrocketed 2855%. Leading up to the 2017 eclipse, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” music video views spiked 410%.

Lastly, music is an ideal medium for live video as festivals grow in numbers and prominence. Live X Live has created LiveZone, which is described as ESPN College Gameday for music festivals. The company is also partnering with the MTV VMAs to create the “Live Music Awards” and announced several original video series starring some of music’s biggest names.

TAKEAWAY

In the words of Fuse Media’s Jason Miller, “music culture is driving youth culture.” As marketers look for entertainment mediums that check many boxes on the media strategy checklist, music is a versatile and generally safe area for investment. And as more media companies invest in music programming, the opportunities for brands will continue to grow more dynamic.