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NewFronts Are Just the Beginning - Michael Kassan

Michael Kassan
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Published: May 3, 2012 at 10:14 PM GMT
Last Updated: May 3, 2012 at 10:14 PM GMT

By Michael Kassan

Art imitates life…and the media business.

So even Bob Dylan can offer insight into the watershed moment we've all just experienced.

Dylan sang that you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and boy, was that ever true this year. It turns out that all you need is a NewFront.

It's easy to compare the NewFronts to the Upfronts – to begin any story with some version of "digital wants to take a greater share of TV dollars." But I think, and as many others pointed out, that's not the point.

Digitas helped set the stage and the founding partners of this year's NewFronts—Google / YouTube, Hulu, Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft—were given a ripe opportunity to present to an eager audience what is to come. As were Vevo and NBCUniversal and the other digital players who joined them in the presentation parade this spring.

At Yahoo there was palpable excitement in the room regarding the quality of programming being shown. The next day, I had a chance to sit down with Anthony Zuiker the creator of the Yahoo digital series Cybergeddon – and he said that it was not just marketers and brands, but even the storytellers themselves who are getting more and more excited as they discover the possibilities of this new medium and how audiences interact with it.

The digi-players' presentations weren't even concluded before Mediapost declared "The NewFront brand has been established. It already has meaning. It has drawn the attention of industry executives, the press and even Wall Street. The discussion about how –not if – a NewFront sales marketplace will form is a victory in itself."

The message of the first and absolutely not even close to the last NewFronts was as unmistakable as the sputter and growl of an automobile driving down an unpaved city street in 1910, throwing mud on the carriages and scaring the horses. Shifting budgets are inevitable—all that's yet to be determined is the timing and the extent.

VEVO – who always puts on a show – had John Legend play a few songs on stage. But as many people left talking about their shift to short and long form programming as those who focused on the live performance. And the next day, the performance was all but forgotten as Rio Caraeff walked the audience through the staggering growth of VEVO in the last 30 months.

But we can't talk about this year's NewFronts without giving proper attention to the Google / YouTube showcase announcing its 100 new channels featuring thousands of hours of content made by traditional and digital video creators. Just like Apple seeded its App store using the iFund –YouTube is funding a destination for repeatable viewing for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who spend roughly 3 billion hours and counting watching online video everymonth (and those figures don't even include mobile).

These viewers are mostly young, and they make no distinction at all between screens and very little distinction between networks. Will we see the day where there is no line at all between broadcast or cable content and online video content?

Content creators, not unexpectedly, have embraced these new platforms as well. And it's serious talent, Brian Robbins, Jon Avnet, Sofia Vergara, Ben Silverman, Anthony Zuiker (who I mentioned above), Hearst's editorial team, Madonna, and many others are telling stories on these platforms, just to name a few.

Sooner or later, some if not many of these stories and storytelling channels are going to blow up, become part of the pop culture zeitgeist, just like TV shows did in television's infancy. Maybe it will be The Nerdist Channel. Or Machinima (if their billion+ views per month doesn't count as "blowing up"). Maybe it will be Tutele or The Mom's View or Wigs or u look haute! or Smosh Animation orYoung Hollywood or Noisey or Everyday Health TV or START or Awesomeness TV.

We don't know yet. But we will.

We've been arguing in this space, debating on conference panels and counseling our clients for a couple years to recalibrate, achieve digital literacy, and understand that we are marketing in a digital world, we are not doing digital marketing.

Judging by the welcome the first industry-wide NewFronts received, that message is getting through. So it's not surprising that no one was surprised that they worked.

We know which way the wind is blowing.

Michael E. Kassan is Chairman and CEO of MediaLink, LLC, a leading Los Angeles and New York City-based advisory and business development firm that provides critical counsel and direction on issues of marketing, advertising, media, entertainment and digital technology. Michael can be reached at michael@medialinkllc.com

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