Upfronts 2013: Digital Companies Offer Peek Inside NewFront Plans

CBS Interactive, Disney Interactive Entertainment, Crackle, others say what’s in store, what’s at stake for the business

ALLOY DIGITAL

What’s New: “Our content, our original intellectual property and our distribution have all grown pretty rapidly,” says Matt Diamond, CEO of Alloy Digital, which plans to launch Clevver Chat, using a talk-show format. Alloy last week acqiured video distributor Digital Broadcasting Group. In November, it acquired gaming site The Escapist, and last June it picked up Clevver Media, operator of entertainment-focused YouTube Channels.

What’s in Store: Alloy will be showcasing its Smosh Channel, which is popular with 12-34 year olds. The company will also be talking about tentpole programs being produced between this fall and spring 2014. There’s a second season of Chasing, a series in which contestants follow a band on the road. In its first year, Xbox was an advertising partner and cable channel Fuse was a distribution and advertising partner. New programs include Thirty Days to Popular, a scripted comedy show; Dorm Biz, which Diamond describes as The Apprentice meets Shark Tank; and Espressologist, based on the YA novel of the same name. There’s also a nonscripted project featuring people redoing their high school musical for their high school reunion.

What’s at Stake: Diamond says in a successful NewFront, programs would be sold to advertisers because of the event. “Ideally you start a trend and advertisers are aware that this is the time frame to take a good look at these programs and if you’re interested, to step up and support them,” he says.

CBS INTERACTIVE

What’s New: CBS Interactive is new this year at the NewFronts. CBSI has more than 70 original Web series and generates 280 million global unique visitors each month. Some series are extensions of CBS shows, such as Live on Letterman and 60 Minutes Overtime. With CBS airing the Super Bowl and the Grammys earlier this year, CBS Interactive had tentpoles that represented two of the largest streaming events ever online. “We’re learning what users want online as it relates to major events,” says Jim Lanzone, president of CBSI.

What’s in Store: The company plans to introduce a number of new original shows. It recently launched ACM Sessions, featuring performances by top country music acts, and Power of Observation, spinning off from the CBS series Elementary. The company also recently released the CBS App for iPhone and iPad and a CBS Sports app for iPhone and Android.

What’s at Stake: Lanzone says that while CBS’ TV upfront focuses on the broadcast network, at the NewFront, media buyers’ attention will be on the broad range of properties from CBS Interactive. Aside from the CBS properties, they include CNet and video games. “It’s always good to be able to show people the full breadth of original video content we have across our brand,” Lanzone says.

CRACKLE

What’s New:
Crackle, a division of Sony Pictures Television, did not participate in last year’s NewFronts. The free, ad-supported network spent the year launching a number of full-length programs. It created a new dedicated sales team separate from the Sony Pictures Television sales team, with reps in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Crackle also built out its distribution, creating 20 apps for mobile devices, gaming consoles and smart TVs.

What’s in Store: “This year we’re doubling our efforts on the volume of original content that we’re doing,” says Eric Berger, executive VP of Digital Networks for Sony. Crackle is producing a second season of Chosen, an action series starring Milo Ventimiglia. Ford is an integrated sponsor of the show. It will also make 24 new episodes of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

What’s at Stake: A theme of Crackle’s presentation will be New Network, New Living Room. “The living room has not only changed inside with connected TVs and game consoles and streaming boxes, but the living room is everywhere. It’s mobile devices, it’s PCs, it’s anywhere the consumer want to access video-on-demand,” Berger says. “This is a new network. It’s not just an aggregated site of video. It really fits into the definition that we use with the 100-plus networks inside of Sony Pictures Television Worldwide, meaning it’s a programmed experience targeted to a demographic.”

DISNEY INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT

What’s New: Disney Interactive Entertainment will be introducing new products that build on Walt Disney Co.’s heritage of storytelling and bringing that to the interactive world, says senior VP Mark Walker, adding, “We have a great deal in the hopper.” Also new at Disney Interactive Entertainment is VP of national sales Josh Mattison, previously with Federated Media.

What’s in Store: A recent success story has been Swampy’s Underground Adventure, a Web series on Disney.com that grew out of the iPhone and iPad game app, Where’s My Water, that has been downloaded 100 million times. Now Swampy appears in interstitials on Disney Channel. The game was also used by Microsoft as part of the Windows 8 launch. Swampy is an example of intellectual property that “wasn’t video when it starts, but it became high-quality video and then it was distributed not just on our dotcom destinations, but across all the different ways that people are accessing video in their living rooms and on the go,” Mattison says. Other new products include OMD (Oh My Disney), an editorial site, and the mobile game Mittens.

What’s at Stake: Disney Interactive is not expected to be profitable this year, partly because the introduction of the video game Disney Infinity, which features a host of Disney characters, was delayed three months until August. The game is likely to be featured in Disney’s New- Fronts presentation.

HULU

What’s New: At last year’s DigiFront, Hulu announced four original series: The Awesomes, Don’t Quit Your Daydream, We Got Next and Flow.

What’s in Store: Hulu said it will also be presenting comedic thriller The Wrong Mans and a docuseries Behind the Mask, about sports mascots, at the DigiFronts. Earlier this year, Hulu also began airing shows from France and Israel as “Hulu Exclusive series.” “It’s a thrill to share what we have planned in 2013,” Andy Forssell, Hulu’s acting CEO and senior VP of content, says in a statement. Hulu declined to make an executive available to discuss the digital upfronts.

What’s at Stake: Hulu’s future is up in the air. It was reported that Chernin Group CEO Peter Chernin, who helped launch Hulu when he was president of News Corp., has offered to buy the streaming site, which is controlled by News Corp., Walt Disney Co. and Comcast. News Corp. and Disney have had disagreements over Hulu’s future and have discussed buying each other out or selling to a third party.

YAHOO

What’s New:
Yahoo produces and distributes more than 50 original made-for-Web shows and more than 400 episodes per month for those shows. This includes programming from the in-house production studio Yahoo Studios. Two of Yahoo’s originals have gone from Web to TV: Burning Love, picked up by E!, and Cybergeddon, which has been bought in international markets.

What’s in Store: “We will demonstrate our users’ daily video watching habits, unveil some new original shows with talent joining us on stage, and we will be showcasing our advertiser technology,” a Yahoo representative says. Yahoo declined to make an executive available to discuss its DigiFronts strategy because that strategy was changing at presstime.

What’s at Stake: Yahoo brought on Marissa Mayer nine months ago as CEO to focus the Internet company’s business. Yahoo’s stock is up, but whatever changes the former Google exec has made, the word has not filtered down to Madison Avenue, according to recent reports. Senior executives at big media agencies recently told Advertising Age that because they don’t have a good sense of the company’s strategy, Yahoo is less relevant when people are thinking about digital marketing.