The full name of the NewFronts is the Digital Content NewFronts, so it’s always expected that the focus will be on what’s on screen. That still proved to be true for the first few days at this year’s NewFronts, a 12-day run of 33 companies hawking their platforms to ad buyers. Still, technology’s evolution and the shaking-out of a crowded marketplace have forced companies to refine their pitches to a noticeable degree. Few, if any, rivals are likely to come up with a genuine answer to House of Cards or Transparent (whose distributors, Netflix and Amazon, skip the ad-centric NewFronts), but all of the tacking and jibing has prompted some interesting questions around the future of streaming content. Three of the biggest:
1) Can “OPC” (other people’s content) be more powerful than originals?
Hulu, which called its event both a NewFront and an upfront, has a stake in the ground with ongoing originals such as The Awesomes and East Los High, and plans some ambitious new ones such as the J.J. Abrams- Stephen King collaboration 11/22/63. But most of the sparks it generated at its April 29 presentation centered on off-cable properties, including Seinfeld, which it reeled in for $130 million, and slates from AMC Networks, FX, Turner and Viacom. Jerry Seinfeld himself seemed almost incredulous from the stage at how a show as familiar as his could feel so fresh. “It’s amazing to be here. You could just put in the DVD of the show, but no,” he said, gesturing around the slick, screen-packed Hulu stage. “You want to do this.”
2) Will live be the kind of tonic for digital that it has been for linear?
Yahoo made some intriguing moves in its April 27 presentation, not the least of which was having EDM DJ Steve Aoki nearly bass-blast the walls down at the normally genteel Avery Fisher Hall. The message of the mosh was that music would become even more central to the Yahoo video proposition. Along with off-net staples such as Saturday Night Live, scripted originals like Community and digital magazines focused on lifestyle fare, Yahoo Live is a major priority. The company will bring four major music festivals to the platform, including Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, and is also building in a TV show watercooler site for obsessive fan viewers, as well as a Katie Couric-hosted live news show to enable reaction in real time. Execs rattled off a number of encouraging stats about the live arm, which launched in 2014, and hope it mirrors linear TV.
3) Will virtual reality get real? Spike TV made news recently by announcing that Lip Sync Battle would be the first virtual-reality TV show. But The New York Times and Condé Nast Entertainment each enticed NewFronts audiences with word about upcoming products that promise to be more immersive for viewers. It was hard to have a sense of that based on the rough teasers shown, but color us intrigued. Although it’s hard to get any more immersive than this spring flurry of NewFronts, INTX and upfronts already is.