It’s video, but not as we know it

john dawson and jack smyth newfrontsIn this guest post Mindshare’s John Dawson and Jack Smyth look at how big digital players have changed their tune and are pitching to take a slice of TV’s ad spend. 

By now you’ll have seen the headlines from day one of the 2016 NewFronts in New York. The story, in many ways, was not surprising: it’s all about video.

What made us pause – and should make you, too – is not the ‘what’ of video but the ‘how.’

Here are the four things from the presentations that you should know. When these digital publishers talk video, they sound like a TV network.

You could have been forgiven for thinking that you were actually at a TV UpFront yesterday. The digital publishers sounded very similar to their TV Network rivals. Just consider the way that NY Times, BuzzFeed and Refinery29 spoke about video: upcoming slate, original programming, shows, seasons and studios.

Digital companies are betting big on attracting a premium from advertisers to feature around premium, TV-quality video. This has an interesting effect on the ad products promoted: It’s about sponsorship or integration.

Greg Coleman Buzzfeed president

Buzzfeed president Greg Coleman: “This stuff is made for brands. Everything in that video is a product you can buy from a store”

And they’ve got the formats that can be seamlessly monetised. Buzzfeed’s Tasty cooking videos attract millions of views in just hours and as Buzzfeed president Greg Coleman pointed out to the audience, “This stuff is made for brands. Everything in that video is a product you can buy from a store.”

The focus on premium video changes the way you talk about display and data. Scale was celebrated, but quality was the focus. That’s understandable when each publisher was wrestling with fundamental changes to their business model.

They don’t own the major platforms where their most valuable content will be distributed. More and more, they’re renting their audiences from Facebook, Snapchat and Google with their content living in the feed. They can’t sell you display when they don’t own the feed so it’s no surprise that there was no mention of display at any of the presentations.

Display wasn’t the only omission. Data took a backseat in the presentations for a similar reason. It’s difficult to offer a complete picture of your viewers/readers/subscribers when they’re on someone else’s platform consuming your content.

Unsurprisingly only Buzzfeed lingered on data. It uses Facebook and other platform data to optimise content – testing and learning what format, frames or phrases worked best. This was not crunching big data with complex algorithms, it was A/B testing cooking videos.

Though it has proved enormously successful for Buzzfeed, president Greg Coleman was blunt: “We don’t know what will work, but we know how to find out.”

buzzfeed tasty logoWith Buzzfeed’s cooking property Tasty racing to 360m engaged Facebook users every month since launch in August 2015 his confidence is understandable. VR is bordering on buzzword, but multi-million dollar investments are changing that.

Each publisher reserved a special place for its VR offering. The New York Times took us to Pluto and boasted of an extra 300,000 Google Cardboard kits shipping to subscribers. Refinery29 was even more ambitious, aiming to produce at least one piece of VR content every week through its VR29 studio.

VR is still susceptible to hype but the level of investment we saw is likely to change that. There was a clear message for brands: VR demands a high level of investment.

The quality of the content we experienced was breathtaking and VR will likely replace homepage takeovers and similar formats as publishers’ ultra-premium advertising product.

In building alternate revenue streams the role of a publisher is poised to evolve significantly.

The capacity of these modern publishers to create, manage, deliver and scale video is simply stunning. They have in-front and behind-camera talent, they have a network, they have the cultural appeal and they deliver scale, over and over.

As a resulGoogle Cardboard VR - opent, modern digital publishers are content marketing agencies. Expect them to build out a full service content offering in the coming months.

TBrand Studio (the NY Times’ branded content team – read: agency) is a great example of this, where the team produces original content for brands that then lives on NY Times’ assets and wherever else people consume video.

It’s going to be an attractive proposition for marketers. One invoice delivers creative impact and media reach. Not only are these publishers massive, they are ambitious: they are going to go hard to capture these dollars.

On to the next presentation…

The NewFronts are equal parts crystal ball and echo chamber. Many of the sessions covered the same ground. Everyone wants in on premium video to ease pressure on traditional revenue sources. But premium by its very nature is expensive and if day one is anything to go by agencies will be spoilt for choice.

With AOL, YouTube and Hulu over the next few days we’ll be able to compare how the networks and established video players are planning to own premium.

You can follow @emmainsights on Twitter for our daily updates.

Jack Smyth and John Dawson are strategists at Mindshare. They travelled to the 2016 NewFronts as winners of the Emma Strategic Thinker competition.


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