The 2021 NewFronts: Living the Stream
Another day, another webinar! This time it was the 2021 Newfronts – a weeklong series of events presented by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Walled gardens, networks, up-and-comers, tech companies and more gathered virtually for the second year in a row to discuss the latest and greatest, as well as issues challenging the advertising industry.
While watching from the comfort of your home is certainly convenient, I think we can all agree that webinar fatigue is real and it’s proving most difficult to stay engaged these days. It did not help that most presentations were plagued by excessive buffering either! If you had trouble concentrating like we did, consider these three takeaways – Streaming, Original Content, and Convergence. Most presentations focused on at least one if not all of these major themes.
Streaming, Streaming, Streaming
Streaming was heating up before the pandemic but really surged during country-wide lockdowns. This year’s NewFronts highlighted a growing field of connected TV players who are finding ways to monetize the shift in consumer viewing habits. Streaming ad solutions and growth were highlighted in every presentation, further emphasizing the need for advertisers to push dollars into this marketplace if they are not already doing so. Most providers also preached of their unduplicated reach between linear and OTT. We can no longer rely on linear-only strategies to reach our target audiences. Unless there are specific market, category, or brand factors present that indicate otherwise, Harmelin is recommending at least 20% of TV dollars be allocated towards non-linear inventory to be sure alignment with evolved viewing patterns.
From a creative perspective, it is also important for advertisers to leverage the interactive opportunities that come with streaming. David Cohen of the IAB said, “Interactivity needs to be a part of the experience. The ads must be relevant and engaging.” It is critical for advertisers to provide consumers an easy option to engage, learn more, or order on the fly. Shoppable video content is no longer a differentiating solution, it is the norm we are heading towards.
Content is King
After the streaming stats came the content announcements, and there were no exceptions. All sorts of companies are throwing their hats into the content ring. Whether it is through buying the rights to shows or reboots, cultivating a new means of distribution, or producing an original series – content is clearly driving business decisions in 2021.
Unexpectedly, even some of the big social players like SnapChat and Twitter are in on content. In the coming year, Snapchat will roll out several scripted short-form series, including Breakwater (a futuristic drama set in a world of climate refugees), Everything’s Fine (a study of mental illness), and The Me and You Show (a personalized sketch comedy that Snapchat users can take part in). Twitter will expand its relationship with NBCUniversal’s news properties, launching special tweet content from Today, CNBC and Telemundo’s nightly newscast.
It was interesting to see some of streaming TV companies like Roku and Vizio expanding beyond their business of hardware/services into content as well. Roku will roll out original programming in late 2021, including content generated by now-defunct Quibi as well as new episodes of This Old House and Ask This Old House. Vizio revealed “Vizio Features,” a set of new dedicated programming services with numerous branded content opportunities.
Merging of Two Worlds
This NewFronts season was not all about content. For the first time, the IAB welcomed sessions by various data and measurement companies like TransUnion, OpenAP, and Ampersand. These sessions spoke to the convergence of digital video and traditional TV as well as the holy grail of advertising – a people-first, holistic measurement approach. It is a topic we as an industry have talked about for years, yet the work being done at a national level makes it seem more achievable now than ever before.
The theme of interconnectivity was woven throughout several presentations; the lines between linear and digital continue to blur. Networks are forcing a specific percentage of upfront dollars towards digital extensions, publishers (both digital and traditional) are investing in content distribution efforts via smart TV apps, media conglomerates are creating their own linear channels and the same OTT inventory continues to be accessible via several buying outlets.
Consumers don’t necessarily distinguish between linear TV and streaming TV, so neither should we. They move seamlessly between their options, following their favorite content however, wherever and whenever they choose. At Harmelin, we embrace the fluidity and notion of the audience-first concept; we are ready for the industry to make the pivot. Our next agency blog will be on the Network Upfronts. It will be interesting to see if the NewFronts and Upfronts continue to exist as separate events in the future. In 2022, we expect to be much better equipped for the convergence of both worlds –“New-UpFronts” has a nice ring to it, no?
- Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment will launch a new smart TV-distributed service this fall.
- Tubi will generate more than 140 hours of original programming.
- Audacy made a splash crashing the video-centric presentations with audio solutions. The lines between audio and streaming TV are also becoming blurred with voice activated apps and smart TVs.
- Amazon will launch an actionable video solution where viewers can interact without disrupting their viewing experience. They will again own exclusive streaming rights to the NFL’s Thursday Night Football games in 2022.
- Samsung will offer advertisers full-channel sponsorships for the 160+ services in its TV Plus catalog.
- Fubo TV is launching a branded content studio and interactive free-to-play games.
- IMDb TV will dive into original series offerings with On Call, Dick Wolf’s first production for a smart TV-distributed network and a new Judge Judy courtroom series.
- YouTube will introduce interactive ad formats where viewers can request further product information via their remote or voice control.
- Conde Nast has a GQ/GQ Sports linear channel in the works for the 2021-22 season.
- NBC’s Peacock ad unit will allow brands to serve ads to every user watching any program in a particular time slot.
- Tegna will expand content from its sports podcasts to smart TV apps programmed on the company’s 54 stations.
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