Following this year's successful TV advertising upfront, yesterday Digitas' branded entertainment arm, The Third Act, presented its third annual and playfully titled, Digital Content NewFront. The similarities are in name only though, as the NewFront is a conference and social gathering, bringing together and showcasing top tier online content creators, distributors, and forward-thinking brands.
Before you start thinking NewFront is a bunch of web wannabes looking for their big break, the guest list was actually packed with tons of traditional media talent who have also been pursuing online content, such as Kevin Pollack, Jason Bateman, Lisa Kudrow, Teri Hatcher, and even Martha Stewart. Their involvement underscores how traditional and new media convergence is already well underway, propelled by branded entertainment.
The enthusiasm at the NewFront was abundant, with Mark Beeching, Digitas' Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, trumpeting in his opening remarks, "Online video is no longer a three minute trivial sideshow!" Still, illustrating the mixed motivations of many online content creators, Ricky Van Veen, of CollegeHumor and IAC's branded content wing, Electus, noted that most creators still view online video as a stepping-stone to TV or film.
A key reason why this is true is that although online video is growing fast, most of it is still consumed on computer screens. That physical separation in turn leads to a mental separation for many content creators about which medium they're producing for. However, as online enabled TVs, platforms and devices help blur the line between computer and television, I expect distinctions for content creators to melt away as well. In fact, for younger generations, such as Beeching's 5 year old daughter - who called the TV set a "big 'puter," this dividing line is already gone.
Meanwhile, much of the high-quality independent content that is flourishing is due to brands' desire to engage consumers in a different way than in traditional media. The event's theme "Fandomonium," echoes this idea. Fandomonium stresses the interactive and community aspects of online content and how it enables brands to truly engage with the younger "YouTube" generation, who are less drawn to passive entertainment experiences and are immune to traditional advertising.
Online branded entertainment - whether sponsorships or full integrations, were shown to be very successful at attracting the niche audiences that generally "TiVo" past the traditional advertising breaks. One example presented was a partnership between EQAL, Paula Deen, and Kraft's "The Real Women of Philadelphia," which, according to Kraft's SVP of Marketing, Howard Friedman, reached over 4 million viewers. More importantly, Friedman stressed that the campaign engaged a large subset of these consumers and tasked them to think about Cream Cheese beyond a schmear on a bagel.
Ultimately, as high-quality independent online content continues to grow - being funded largely by brand sponsors - the big leap forward will happen when it can be delivered to a wider audience, in their living rooms. Whether it's Google TV, Boxee, Kylo or myriad others, reaching the TV will level the playing field for all types content creators.
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