As we keep an eye on the Digital NewFront sessions in New York City, it immediately became clear, it’s all about mobile, video and social. Every outlet is thinking about the smartphones that have become integral and indispensable in our lives. They’re all counting on that fact as they create new content and to that end, look for more and more video. This made us wonder who’s still reading but let’s get to the rundown of Day 1.
New York Times
Venue: Dia Art Space in Chelsea
Mood: Relaxed, emo vibe, softer electronica music set the mood for the morning session that opened this NewFront week.
Highlights: Managing Editor of Video Bruce Headlam introduced the Times high caliber journo talents David Carr (media), Mark Bittman (food), Molly Wood (tech) and new fashion editor Vanessa Friedman, who just joined the Times. Headlam says The Times’ commitment to video is serious because “on the web, the frame matters. Our frame is The New York Times.” New apps to be introduced include a cooking app, an opinion app and the recently launched NYT Now app.
David Carr summed it up best, “My value is in the conversation between people. The conversations often start with us [The New York Times.] We have a 160 year history with the audience and this creates permissions with them.”
The Times knows their cachet and brand trust with consumers. Rebecca Howard, General Manager of Video, just completed her first year at the Times. Times Video re-launched yesterday and is now organized by channels such as Op-Docs, Modern Love, Vows and Verbatim, a new series of court transcripts read by comedic talent. The Times is training journos to use smartphones to shoot their stories and Howard says, video content on the Times’ site is trolled by executives and producers to fuel new TV show, movie and TV news stories, “We are the fuel for the story engine.”
Takeaways: Quiet intelligence and a strong commitment to expanded video content done intelligently and tastefully, in keeping with the Times legacy.
Venue: SVA Theatre
Mood: On the mellow tip. Surprising, given the jumbled, frenetic look of the site that’s overloaded with content.
Highlights: Ze Frank, EVP of Video and founder Jonah Peretti both spoke eloquently about how Buzzfeed content connects with consumers and artfully explained how and why content is shared. It’s the first time we’ve really enjoyed an informational slideshow as both men explained how Buzzfeed content isn’t created to appeal to the masses but instead, goes deep and is very specific. Content is shared because of three principal reasons: Identity (you relate to it), Emotional Gift (you understand it and it makes you feel something), and Information (you learned something new.) Frank says he’s not sure this is absolutely right and he’s open to change.
Frank also elaborated on “What Is Social Video?” theorizing that it’s a proxy for conversation and another usage for media. It’s more than Consumable Video, which is how he refers to TV and film.
Peretti says video is the biggest shift in BuzzFeed’s business. Half the video views are on mobile. BuzzFeed also claims greater scale than TV and Peretti referred to a bar graph that included both broadcast and cable TV networks.
BuzzFeed had advertisers from GE, Purina and Clean & Clear talk about how the site has created content for them that connected with consumers by pushing brand messages in organic, relatable ways that hit emotional notes, a prime example is, “A Cat’s Guide To Taking Care Of Your Human” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJPJUaZZOss
Takeaways: BuzzFeed is so much more than cats and quizzes. We feel like the site needs to do better messaging so the general public knows this fact. The thinking behind some of the site’s content is truly original and visionary.
Venue: Moynihan Station warehouse
Mood: Nerve-jangling. Blaring rock mash-ups, mixed by Beastie Boys DJ Mixmaster Mike.
Highlights: The band Lake Street Dive opened the session with a jazzy cover of “Faith.” Then comedian Craig Robinson, always a day brightener, crooned an altered version of “Little Boxes” to promote Xbox Entertainment’s presence at the upcoming Bonnaroo Festival. The funky good time closing performance of Nile Rodgers and Chic was cool but seemed out of place. Most attendees left during it.
President Nancy Tellem seemed a bit uncomfortable presenting but we liked her Charlie Mingus quote that “making the complicated simple is creativity.” EVP Jordan Levin was the most comfortable in front of the crowd but his patter needed some punch-up.
Upon arrival, we felt like we took a step back in time: signing into the session on a PC, the wireless code wasn’t given to everyone so if you wanted to live tweet the session like we did, it didn’t work well in the warehouse. The demo of a interactive short film was a miss as the two directors talked over the film to explain how viewers could choose story points as they watched.
Takeaways: The slogan “This is Where TV Wants To Be” may not make sense. Microsoft says it’s because they have the technology to put content wherever millennials want to watch and interact with it. They claim they’re already a content company because of all their games, but does that translate to creating quality entertainment programming? Their emphasis this time around is on game-related shows, sports and music, which is a solid way into the millennial demo. We liked the reel for Every Street United, the series about streetball soccer players. Also interesting: Signal To Noise, six documentaries about stories about the digital age, such as the downfall of Atari.
Venue: The Tent at Lincoln Center
Mood: Upbeat corporate
CEO Marissa Mayer opened the presentation, emphasizing the four primary areas of concentration: mobile, social, native and video.
Highlights: The introduction of new editors Josh Wolk (entertainment), Joe Zee (fashion), Bobbi Brown (beauty), Paula Froelich (travel)
Look for new Yahoo Originals Sin City Saints about a Las Vegas basketball team from TV producer Mike Tollin (Smallville) and Other Space, a comedy sci-fi series from Paul Feig.
Another big piece of news: Yahoo Live will stream one concert a day for a year, in partnership with LiveNation. There will also be exclusive behind the scenes footage with bands. LiveNation CEO admires Yahoo’s commitment to making high-quality live experiences. Kellogg’s is sponsoring the concert series.
Yahoo News will add new series World 3.0 about thought leaders and innovators, and Now I Get It, which will explain things like “what is Bitcoin, really?”
Yahoo Travel, now headed up by former Page Six editor Paula Froelich, debuted a digital travel magazine and the new video series Photo Tripping with photographer Melanie Dunea at the newfront.
To tout Yahoo Premium, which includes content from broadcast and cable TV, Ilana Grazer and Abbi Jacobson of Comedy Central’s popular series Broad City, appeared onstage.
Takeaways: Can Yahoo have another breakout comedy hit like Erica Oyama and Ken Marino’s Burning Love? The jury is out.
Also, we wondered why Yahoo didn’t utilize Katie Couric to host the NewFront. She’s a skilled host and presenter and while CMO Kathy Savitt did an efficient job, when you have a piece of talent like Katie Couric on your team, it seems like a missed opportunity not to put her in a more prominent position.
My extensive background spans a diverse career in the entertainment industry. Following my graduation from UCLA where I ran the Campus Events Speakers Program, my industry journey began in the Paramount Pictures mailroom and story department. I went on to work at NBC and Columbia Pictures TV in Current Programs, where I learned exactly how TV shows are produced. At Warner Bros. Television, I joined Marta Kauffman and David Crane when they made a production deal. In a continuing effort to broaden my breadth of industry knowledge, I joined 3 Arts Entertainment, working in both the talent and lit departments, handling day-to-day coordination for actor, director and writer clients and covering the TV landscape to keep the managers informed. It was through the TV intel I collected for managers that I first had the inspiration for The Surf Report. It quickly went viral and became a favorite read for agents, managers, writers, producers, actors and those who assist them. In addition to The Surf Report, I occasionally cover events for New York magazine's Vulture.
The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.