By Yuri Baranovsky
Every May, network executives and advertisers gather in New York City to do their version of entertainment speed dating at an event known as the Upfronts – where TV networks show off their sexy slate of shows while advertisers wildly throw money at the hottest ones. A couple of years ago, a second event, called the NewFronts, was created. Its purpose was the same, except instead of TV shows, the NewFronts cater to series made specifically for new media by companies like Amazon, Netflix, Yahoo and many more.
The importance of the NewFronts is not to be overlooked – but with advertisers still spending at least 20 times more on TV than digital, it’s still an event that needs to grow and evolve to truly help the online medium.
So, without further ado, I bring you what I think is the good, the bad, and the future of the NewFronts.
1. The event gives new media some much needed legitimacy. Since my company and I started making digital series in 2006, legitimacy has been the biggest barrier to entry for viewers. Audiences don’t trust the web because as far as they’re concerned – web content is a mix of kittens in boxes and vloggers being goofy. Having an event like the NewFronts gives new media an air of professionalism and shows both advertisers and the media that online content can be just as good as television.
2. NewFronts provide competition. Competition, as every good Capitalist knows, drives innovation and creativity. This is a good thing for a genre that continues to shoot itself in the foot by continuously preaching cheap and fast content over well-written, high-quality series. The NewFronts are finally forcing creators to put together shows that are well-crafted, well-written stories that can easily be successful on television. At the end of the day, it’s content like that and not sketch comedy-esque vlogging that will put new media on the map.
3. Money. The web is not a magical fairy land where creators can make TV series for 10% of the cost – we are not, contrary to popular belief, underaged sweatshop workers. The more brands that see online content as a feasible place to advertise, the more money flows into the genre, the higher the quality, the more it becomes less a world of talking oranges and more a world where a show like House of Cards can live and can be created by someone other than Kevin Spacey and David Fincher.
1. The NewFronts propagate the idea that online advertising is the same as TV advertising. It isn’t. TV relies on time slots, guaranteed views from a guaranteed audience, and repetition. Drink Coke. Drink Coke. Drink Coke. What are you going to drink? Probably Coke. Online entertainment doesn’t work that way. When a preroll ad comes on, I – like I imagine many others do — open another tab and check Facebook. The fact is, impressions are bought and views are earned – TV and digital spots provide a tiny conversion rate from viewers, while actual interaction with a brand through a good digital series can provide unparalleled results. As an example: our series LEAP YEAR, made for Hiscox Insurance, gave the company a 35% boost in insurance quotes and buys. Let me say that again – a 35% boost in insurance quotes and buys. The series itself wasn’t branded, instead, it was a good show with a fanbase largely composed of small business owners who genuinely enjoyed the story, the acting, the writing, even the music. With Hiscox advertising around the show, but not directly in it, it allowed us to not only create a good standalone series but also build brand affinity for Hiscox which yielded huge results.
The longer brands believe that advertising online is the same as television, the longer new media will remain in a weird, halfway state between artistic professionalism and underfunded amateurism.
2. Digital series are put into the same conversation as TV shows – and often end up looking like B-movie versions of them because the budgets are so much smaller. This, of course, makes brands wary of putting ad dollars into the series, which forces digital series to be stuck looking like B-movies, which makes brands not want to invest money in them, which — well, you get it.
3. A lot of the shows are still really bad. TV has this problem too, but they can cover it with money and celebrities. The NewFronts sometimes expose the lack of good writing and acting on the web which further hurts our legitimacy as a high-level, professional form of entertainment. That’s on us, as a community, to change in the coming weeks, months and years as this thing continues to grow.
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE
The NewFronts are a hugely important step in the evolution of online entertainment. The biggest issue right now is advertisers still have no idea what they’re doing, which turns the NewFronts into more of a curiosity than a place to buy. To them, the web is a very loud, disorganized and confusing space that they fear will eventually swallow them up into its giant, porn-and-animal-video-filled mouth, never to be seen again.
It is the job of both creators and digital platforms, therefore, to start educating brands on what works, and to stress, once again, that advertising online is not the same as advertising on television. Perhaps the NewFronts need to be half-school, half-auction. Where the first few days are a series of panels that explain, very simply, why a 30 second spot will almost never yield you high conversion rates, while a successful online series can. Where we explain, very simply, that shotgun blasting ads over a slew of digital series, or creating branded spots to throw haphazardly on Hulu and YouTube is wrong and a waste of money.
No, advertising with a digital series does not offer the same kind of vast reach as, say, throwing a spot on American Idol, but what they do offer is something that has the potential to be far more effective. Advertising online is more surgical, more artistic. Because of the vastness of the space, creating ads online means crafting a well-made piece of art that attracts real fans, fans that would actually be interested in the product that sponsored it.
Yes, the NewFronts are one huge step forward for the online entertainment industry. The next step is to start educating brands to do the very thing one of the best advertisers in the business has been telling us all to do for many years — think different.
Brought to you by Apple.
Not really. But, see what I did there?
Yuri Baranovsky is the co-owner of Happy Little Guillotine Studios , a creative agency and production house operating in the digital space. He is one of the co-authors of the first college textbook for writing in the digital space, called Screenwriting 2.0: Writing for the Digital Age.
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