NewFronts 2020 Roundup: What Mattered Most

NewFronts 2020 Roundup: What Mattered Most
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

The NewFronts, like every other major conference that’s persevered in 2020, took place under much different, virtual circumstances this year. The annual event where digital media companies lure ad spend by parading new ad products and programming came to a close on Friday. Here’s a primer on all the announcements that mattered most:

Day 1 

Hulu: The Disney-controlled streamer has been one of the most experimental on the market when it comes to unique ads. It furthered that notion last Monday when it announced GatewayGo, a new ad format that lets users scan on-screen QR codes to take advantage of offers presented during Hulu ad breaks. Consumers may be more open to the idea than you think: A similar test ad that NBCU aired on TV last year got 50,000 scans in 5 minutes. 

Roku: The leader in the connected TV space announced Roku Reserve, which lets buyers place ads on the top 1% of Roku channels. The program is Roku’s version of YouTube Select, although Roku Reserve was only available through the NewFront. The fleeting nature of the Roku Reserve offer could have spurred some previously unplanned Roku ad placements, and it doesn’t seem like something that would have trouble attracting clients in the long-term (if it were extended) given all the big digital players continue to struggle with brand safety (see: the Facebook boycott).

Tubi: The Fox-owned ad-supported streamer touted bringing over Fox content like “LEGO Masters” to supercharge its platform, and also that a new Tubi platform for Spanish-language content, Tubi en Español, is coming this fall. It was smart for Tubi to stress its place within the Fox portfolio, as that may help it gain credibility among advertisers.

Day 2

Snap: Snap emphasized its reach among Gen Zers via its Snap Originals, though its most interesting stat was that the platform has more daily active users that are 25 and older than Twitter’s entire U.S. monetizable daily user base. This could help lure ad spend from brands that are cooling on the idea of Twitter ads as it contends with COVID-19 misinformation; Snapchat has never really struggled with fake news to the same degree as other major social networks.  

Condé Nast: The publisher announced the launch of a podcast network, with seven original podcasts launching later this year. Being one of the fewer digital audio programming announcements of the week certainly helps it stand out in a sea of ad product announcements, which is necessary in Condé’s quest to become less reliant on its glossies. Print advertising was the company’s biggest revenue stream and forecast to make up 36% of its sales last August.

Facebook: Although one of the biggest companies involved in this year’s NewFronts, its presentation may be among this year’s most inconsequential. The company’s short presentation simply showcased the ways that creators and brands have used its products, like Facebook Live, to connect with others during lockdown. No flashy FB Watch programming or fancy ad formats were announced. To be fair, Facebook’s slot was only 5 minutes, compared to the 25ish minutes slots of others like Condé. Point is, you didn’t miss much by missing Facebook’s NewFronts presentation.

Day 3

WSJ/Barron’s Group: WSJ talked up “The Exchange,” its new ad offering that’s aimed at helping brands reach readers with targeted ads in a brand-safe environment. While certainly something that’s probably welcomed among WSJ’s existing ad clients, it’s not necessarily something that jumps off the page in a roundup of NewFront announcements (better targeting, better data, yada yada). 

Vice Media: Vice announced a slew of programs in production, though its most interesting announcement was the international expansion of its news operation with Vice World News. Vice will also launch a weekly investigative podcast with iHeartRadio called VICE News Reports. That podcast is slated for a Fall 2020 release, although it might be beneficial for Vice to push up the release date if possible to capitalize on how popular news podcasts have become in the coronavirus era. 

NPR: The audio company touted its dominance in the podcast marketplace (NPR chief John Lansing mentioned 8 of the top 20 U.S. podcasts were NPR’s), while also indicating that consumers found NPR to be a more reliable source for pandemic info than the CDC. NPR has long been dominant in the podcast space, so its pitch on trust was likely to be the thing that stuck out more.

Day 4

YouTube: Like the other companies presenting, YouTube rattled off some stats on why it matters in addition to some of its fresh ad products (like YouTube Select). What stuck out from the announcements was the implication that YouTube has not completely lost interest in premium scripted content, contrary to what the recent sale of “Cobra Kai” to Netflix suggested, as it announced a new scripted YouTube Original named “Lockdown” is in the works. That might be good news for scripted show creators that crossed off YouTube from their list of potential platforms to pitch to after the “Cobra Kai” news broke. 

TikTok: What advertisers might appreciate most from TikTok on Thursday was the launch of TikTok for Business, which is the company’s new ad platform that makes it easy to review available ad products and track TikTok ad spending ⁠— this is the first time TikTok is laying out its ad resources in one global hub, per Tubefilter. Something that could have strengthened the TikTok NewFront pitch would have been some words from Kevin Mayer, though he was separately giving a virtual talk to students interested in media on Thursday. It’s not like Zuckerberg was pitching new programming and ad products in Facebook’s NewFronts slot, but it is a little different since Mayer just joined TikTok, and because Mayer should be focused on more quickly helping legitimize the platform as more of a U.S.-based business.

Day 5

3BlackDot: One of the few presenting companies on the final day of the NewFronts, digital entertainment studio 3BlackDot announced “Alpha Betas” and “Party Chat,” two originals it has in the works. Both feature gaming influencers, which hints at 3BlackDot’s focus of working with the creator community. Keep an eye out for “Betas,” which is still searching for a platform for distribution in early 2021, in particular — the influencers voicing the heroes of the show have nearly 40 million YouTube subscribers between them.