Make no mistake about it, Defy Media was selling itself and selling hard at its NewFront presentation at the SVA Theatre in New York on Tuesday. But, as it did so, it delivered a barrage of well-targeted blows to its competitors, some of which rocked the foundational concept of the IAB-sponsored, two-week (May 2–13) series of events.
“The NewFronts have become this kind of weird, special place where people… dust off some celebrities from another medium with another audience and they announce a new project,” said Andy Tu, Defy’s EVP of marketing. Later, he implored the crowd to “consider the background of some of the other NewFront presentations you might see this week, whether they’re magazines… or they’re a dial-up portal and an ad network.”
Or, as Defy’s CEO Matt Diamond pointedly asked later in the presentation, “Are they creators natives, newbies or tourists?”
Tu was presumably referencing Conde Nast (the day’s next presenter), Hearst (presenting tonight) and AOL, which later that night would woo industry and public alike with a street fair in the Seaport District featuring an appearance by Snoop Dogg.
“We hope you’ll ask yourself, ‘How have [their] shows done? What’s the track record there?’” said Tu of Defy’s competitors.
Defy was happy to brag about the 800 million monthly views its gets for its content, which includes programs from the popular duo Smosh (Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla) and such franchises as “Man at Arms,” “Screen Junkies” and “Honest Trailers.”
At AOL’s event, there was no mention of how they crushed it with the programming they announced at last year’s NewFront, which included second seasons of “Park Bench with Steve Buscemi” and “Making A Scene with James Franco.” But AOL was acquired by Verizon for $4.4 billion shortly after last year’s presentation, and new regimes are typically eager to flush anything they can’t take credit for, and even quicker to distance themselves from anything that has a whiff of failure. And suffice it to say that kids weren’t talking about the latest episode “Park Bench” at school the next day.
This speaks to what Tu called ‘The McConaughey Effect,” a reference to a high school girl-cruising character in the movie “Dazed and Confused” played by Matthew McConaughey who says, “I keep getting older and they stay the same age.”
“In his case… I think that was a good thing,” Tu said. “And, in our case, it’s not, because we do run the risk of being out of touch or irrelevant.”
At CNE’s event, the publishing giant announced that it was relaunching The Scene, its glossy portal for digital video from its vast library of brands (ranging from Allure and Architectural Digest to Vanity Fair and Vogue), as a mobile-first video network with social capabilities.
One can hardly blame CNE (or AOL for that matter) for pivoting, because that’s what smart media companies do, and the relatively low price of entry in digital video makes those pivots easier to execute.
Back in 2011 — ancient times in the digital video space — YouTube launched its $100 million Original Channel initiative, featuring original premium content from established traditional media personalities including Madonna, Pharell Williams, Amy Poehler, Ashton Kutcher and Shaquille O’Neal. These days, YouTube focuses on homegrown talent such as Lilly Singh — whose tour documentary “A Trip to Unicorn Island” (produced by Astronauts Wanted) was one of the first original exclusives for its subscription service YouTube Red — backing them with outdoor advertising that can be seen all around New York during the NewFronts.
“Five years ago, many thought that anyone could create digital content,” Diamond told the crowd. “Now, flash-forward five years, and major media companies and A-list talent have failed to build big audiences. It’s much harder than people think, and the learning curve is very steep.”
The difficulty is exemplified by the number of programs announced at NewFronts past that never got the chance to fail because they were never made.
“Are you literally sitting in a greenlight meeting where you’re determining whether or not they even make the content?” Diamond asked the brands and advertisers in attendance. “Because if they are, how committed are they, really? Second, does anyone really care if they produce this content? Is there a brand associated with it? Is there a fan base? Is it going to matter if they screw it up? Because, if they do screw it up, I guarantee you it affects your brand.”
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