It’s the third year for the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Digital NewFronts event, and the lineup puts on display the difficult job digital publications and networks have: proving to TV ad buyers that their video ad offerings are a good investment.

Based off the TV industry’s upfronts meetings, where network execs gather to pitch their upcoming programming to advertising reps so they can allocate ad dollars ahead of time, the NewFronts meetings have been gaining momentum as publications focus more on on video offerings.

We’ve been following the NewFronts presentations since they started April 28, and here’s an aggregated look at highlights from coverage of the event across the web,

1. To compete with TV, look and act like TV, but be digital

When you think of AOL or Yahoo, TV isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But as both companies struggle to solve the revenue riddle with a hodgepodge of advertising tactics, they’re also delving into the world of original entertainment programming that looks much like TV while carrying with it the drawbacks of digital. At this year’s NewFronts event, Yahoo announced it would introduce two half-hour comedy series – with one being created by the director and producer of the box-office hit, “Bridesmaids,” Paul Feig. AOL’s On Network announced a lineup including 15 original shows, mostly of the short documentary variety (10 minutes or less per episode), and one long-form series (20 episodes at 30 minutes a piece).

 

As announced at NewFronts, AOL isn’t just playing like a TV network with its new programs; it’s enlisting the help of longtime TV measurement company Nielsen to report audience ratings for the series. According to an AOL press release, the company will participate in a Nielsen beta by way of Nielsen Digital Program Ratings, which seeks to make TV and online content measurements more uniform across platforms. The effort toward standardizing metrics is of the utmost importance for advertisers who are looking to share their TV ad budgets with web video ad content, which has been seen in the past as a fledgling sub-industry with an underwhelming impact. And as AdAge’s Jeanine Poggi pointed out, it seems digital players are realizing they must broaden their horizons when it comes to planning and paying for quality content, if they want to seriously compete with TV.

“It’s sunk in that they, too, must spend like a TV network and often produce TV-like content to compete for TV ad dollars,” Poggi wrote.

But companies like Hulu, Crackle and AOL have more clout than in the past with celebrities, it seems, which makes the web video industry more competitive for traditional publishers. Though Hulu hasn’t been able to produce a household name like Netflix’s “House of Cards” or “Orange Is The New Black,” it certainly hasn’t been unsuccessful, with 6 million subscribers now. And Hulu is really showing up to contend in the mobile space, announcing at NewFronts that it will stream certain TV shows on mobile devices by this summer. On top of that, Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins said the company would market its six original shows on the same level as cable or broadcast TV companies advertise.

“We are marketing our originals like you would expect cable and broadcast TV would be marketing there,” Peter Naylor, one of Hulu’s heads of programming and ad sales, is quoted as saying in an AdAge piece. “I need the marketing to help create the virtuous circle.”

Crackle, the streaming site owned by Sony, has signed on “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston for an original comedy/detective series “Tightrope,” and Jeremy Renner will produce a 90-minute film for Crackle. Even AOL’s mini series feature stars like Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Richie, James Franco, Zoe Saldana and others, making it tough for even the most prolific pubs switching focus to digital to fight for ad dollars.

2. Print publications have tricks up their sleeves (hint: TV streaming boxes and cable)

Even for massive publishing companies like Conde Nast and the New York Times, getting people to watch the video they produce is just plain hard. It’s not known exactly why, but it’s likely because they weren’t created as video content distributors or publishers like Netflix, Hulu or YouTube. But both legacy companies know that marketers are looking for innovative ways to incorporate their messages onto their websites, so pubs are beefing up their video contributions accordingly.

Nearly independent of its parent company Time Warner, Time Inc. told the NewFronts crowd that it will debut a daily sports video series called 120 Sports, one that Time hopes will appeal to advertisers looking to reach younger generations interested in sports. Time’s “People Now” show will focus on entertainment, and it plans to group all of its video content into a web and mobile presence on The Daily Cut, reported Digiday’s Lucia Moses. Meanwhile, Conde Nast is betting on some of its biggest titles to carry upcoming web video series. A reported $50 million video budget will help fund three new channels for food magazine Bon Appetit, the New Yorker and fashion pub Lucky, reports AdAge’s Michael Sebastian. It’s clear Conde Nast is doubling down on web video, boasting 100 different web series at its NewFront. The Wall Street Journal touted its mastery of the 2-minute video during its NewFront, announcing two series including a news explainer called “The Short Answer” and a digital video magazine called “Signal.” Editor-in-chief Gerard Baker made a hard sell easier by mentioning that the WSJ saw 480 million video streams last year, reported Adweek’s Christopher Heine.

The New York Times has been building up buzz for its video efforts all year, having doubled its staff and created a video department solely for advertisers. While NewFronts presenters have largely been digitally native pubs and companies, the Times’ appearance shows they want their video ad capabilities to be taken seriously. But they have to work with what they’ve got – and that’s still a whole lot of print. One of the paper’s most popular columns, “Modern Love,” will get a video counterpart, as well as “Bits,” and the Times’ new video hub represents videos by topic including Times Documentaries, Sports, Real Estate, Travel, Health and a handful more. While their videos have seen decent numbers through partnerships with Yahoo and NDN, the Times is looking to expand its reach. (Rebecca Howard, general manager of video at the Times told the ISOJ audience in early April that the Times wasn’t generating revenue from video.) Sebastian said the New York Times may have a dedicated channel on your Rokus and Apple TVs as early as this year, and next may be a partnership with cable TV channels where Times video can be shown on the tube.

“We’re in this place now where we feel we’re ready to go out to that multiplatform world,” Howard said in the AdAge piece.

Of course, this video endeavor has to monetize if brands want to buy into it. So, branded playlists where all of an advertiser’s video content can be located in one library will sit among regular editorial videos, and sponsored video will be implemented onto NYTimes.com.

3. Video ads of the future may make you do something

All the chatter surrounding Hulu’s Pizza Hut advertisement proves that hyper-interactive ads may be here to stay. Here’s how it works: You’re in the middle of your favorite show, and your stomach’s growling. Who wants to pick up the phone to order a pizza? Hulu is answering back this summer with a Pizza Hut ad that lets viewers order their pepperoni pie, hot wings and sodas inside of the ad. Bringing together the pizza company’s digital ordering system with Hulu’s interactive ad setup, the move makes you wonder whether traditional publishers might start hooking up with nationwide eateries and boutiques to get readers buying directly from the ad.

Wrote CNN Money’s Brian Stelter of the new technology, “It’s the kind of thing that could become more common as companies take advantage of emerging interactive ad capabilities.”

Hopkins dubbed the Pizza Hut marketing play an “in-stream purchase unit.” These types of ads may make the user experience more seamless and make necessary ads more bearable, but it’s hard to tell what other combinations akin to pizza and TV/movies would work in the same way. But Hulu did point to another type of interactive ad that other pubs could start taking advantage of.

Continued Stelter, “Hopkins also promoted other ad innovations, including 360-degree ads for mobile devices. He showed an example for a car company that let a user look up, down and around from the drivers’ seat of a car, taking advantage of the accelerometers inside some smart phones.”

Angela Washeck is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas. She is a proud graduate of Texas A&M University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a journalism minor. Angela has written for MediaBistro’s 10,000 Words blog, Paste Magazine and TexasMonthly.com, and she once interned with TV newsmagazine “Dan Rather Reports.” Her work has been republished on Editor and Publisher, the American Press Institute and more. When Angela is not busy with PBS MediaShift work, you can find her watching “How I Met Your Mother” reruns, watching Aggie football and attending indie/folk concerts in Dallas. Follow her @angelawasheck.

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