It’s that time of year again—Digital Content NewFronts is underway with a visual feast of digital programming to entice potential advertisers. A total of 37 presenters this year include obvious contenders like YouTube and Hulu, but also more niche-based content producers like WebMD, Activision Blizzard and female-driven company, Refinery29.

Digital content is no longer restricted to a video uploaded to the internet and shared among friends, a fact of which advertisers have become keenly aware. According to a report by Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), advertisers and media buyers have invested 114 percent more in original digital video programming over the past two years.

Blurring The Line Between Digital And Traditional TV Programming

In an age where consumers are no longer limited by what airs on TV, audiences have more choices than ever as to where and how they watch their favorite shows. These days, you can binge watch an entire franchise on your smart phone or video game console, so providers of digital content are adapting. Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins, for example, confirmed plans for a live TV service while Defy has a full programming schedule with 72 shows.

“Programming builds brands, not the other way around,” Defy president, Keith Richman said. “People fell in love with MTV because they love The Real World. AMC gained relevance because of shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men.”

DEFY Newfronts
Defy president, Keith Richman (Credit: IAB)

Monetizing Self-Expression

When it comes to storytelling at a viral level, society has entered what author, Jonah Sachs calls the Digitoral Era—where the best stories rise to the top and ideas are spread through self-expression. Buzzfeed is particularly excited about the application of Facebook Live; earning 800k viewers for causing a watermelon to explode with rubber bands. “This number is really exciting to me,” said BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti during their NewFronts presentation, “Because it’s the first time we’ve had a number that’s comparable to TV.”

Unscripted content is a popular theme this year, from Buzzfeed’s Try Kids to Condé Nast’s Creators in Residence program that aims to help millennials “develop and produce content outside of the traditional system.”

BuzzFeed president, Ze Frank talked about how the company is working with young video creators, and spoke on stage with two of them, including Buzzfeed video producer and personality, Ashly Perez. “Women in media are not allowed to tell their stories for themselves,” she said, “There’s no part of media that feels represented in the media without stereotypically cast as something.”

Disney-owned, Maker Studios hosted an intimate focus-themed breakfast presentation that was closed to the press—addressing internet talent such as video game streamer, PewDiePie. Maker’s head of development and studios, Gabriel Lewis announced that four original concepts from the Spark by Maker inaugural class have been selected to be green-lit for series.

Refinery29, meanwhile, is passing the torch of self-expression to some significantly more famous content creators with their own stories to tell. ShatterBox Anthology, the short-film series premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, will include films directed by actresses Kristen Stewart (Twilight) and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious). Sidibe, in particular, spoke of directing as an opportunity to finally control how she is portrayed on screen.

Audience members try out New York Times' VR experience. (Source: IOB)
Audience members try out New York Times’ VR experience. (Source: IAB)

Integrating VR And 360 Video

Another resounding theme at this years’ NewFronts is the integration of new technologies for both storytelling and branding. Bloomberg Media is now offering connected video through Bloomberg VidPlus which, “allows advertiser messaging to appear within the programming screen at contextually relevant precisely targeted moments.”

Refinery29 announced a new unit focused on virtual reality storytelling and 360-degree programming called VR29 Studios and New York Times Magazine unveiled plans to report news in virtual reality.

“Today we stand before as you as the leaders in virtual reality journalism,” New York Times magazine editor in chief, Jake Silverstein told the NewFronts crowd. New York Times Virtual Reality (NYT VR) uses a free phone app and Google Cardboard viewer to transport users to global locations. This app may soon immerse viewers directly onto the scene of news stories, as well.

Alexandra MacCallum, senior vice president and assistant editor of video commented in a press release, “As we’ve seen with our successful foray into virtual reality, The Times continues to push the boundaries of what is possible for amplifying our news report and features with video.”