Brand safety, Twitter's tie up & living-rooms of the future: key takeaways from the opening day of Digital Content NewFronts

L-R: Michael Kassan, Marc Mathieu, Linda Boff, Tara Walpert Levy, Claire Atkinson / Google

The 2018 Digital Content NewFronts has kicked off with the opening day’s proceedings featuring pitches from both legacy and digital media companies ranging from BBC, The New York Times, Twitter, and Viacom. The Drum rounds up some of the insights from the day.

YouTube and brand safety are already dominating early discussions

Even though Google-owned YouTube isn’t scheduled to host its Brandcast event until May 3, reports emerged that it plans to improve the quality of content made available to advertisers by adding YouTube TV inventory to Google Preferred.

The announcement has been widely interpreted as a move to assuage concerns around brand safety on the video sharing site – an issue that has generated multiple uncomfortable headlines for YouTube over the last year – and is also indicative of its ambitions to claim traditional TV ad budgets.

Despite those headlines over brand safety, its recent efforts to employ AI in conjunction with human moderators was lauded by some of the industry’s highest-profile chief marketing officers during a panel hosted on Monday.

Marc Mathieu, chief marketing officer, US, at Samsung, lauded Google and YouTube’s recent efforts, adding that he was "thrilled" with its recent feedback. “I was on a conference [with YouTube] call last week about its recent transparency report and they really put it in context,” he said.

Meanwhile, fellow panelist Linda Boff, chief marketing officer, General Electric, acknowledged the efforts made by Google but also said the dangers posed by brand safety were just some of the reasons her outfit largely shies away from programmatic media buying.

“We had some fairly honest conversations [with Google] but it’s a window into how we feel about brand safety … what really matters is what the viewer thinks,” she explained.

“If they see GE content in a compromised situation [next to inappropriate content], they think that we chose to put this content in a compromised place … therefore you have to be safe at all costs.”

She went on to add: “There’s not a little safe; there’s either safe or unsafe, and I think the platform of Google Preferred is a big step towards that.”

Meanwhile, fellow panelist, Michael Kassan, MediaLink, chief executive officer, acknowledged that “it’s not an easy fix” especially as advertisers seek the utopian ideal of ‘right device, right context, and right audience’.

He added: “We can’t overthink what we’re doing, we have to take some chances. If we talk about democratization [of media] there’s risk attached to it, we have to be adult about it.”

Separately, panel moderator Claire Atkinson, NBC News anchor, asked participants why online platforms seem to get away with less thorough content vetting compared to traditional media, citing her own outfit’s vigorous procedures by way of contrast to Google’s policy of using AI, then human moderation.

Tara Walpert Levy, vice president, agency and brand solutions, Google, acknowledged “the live feedback” but again underlined some of its progress in its recent efforts to minimize advertisers’ exposure to controversial content on its platform.

“We are at the goal that we agreed to get to [with advertiser partners] which is to get to 99% effective … I think that’s due to a number of reasons ... and I think one of them is the idea that monetization is a privilege, not a right,” she told attendees.

Speaking last week during the company’s recent earnings call, Google chief executive Sundhar Pichai said its recent brand safety efforts meant that over 75% of inappropriate YouTube videos were removed from the platform before they received a single view.

‘The living room is the next frontier’ for The New York Times with TV and movie ambitions

Meanwhile, over at The New York Times, the host city’s journal of record held an announcement-packed event dubbed “New Insights, New Voices, New Audiences” with the top line message that it has no plans to be left behind by the ongoing digital revolution.

This includes plans to take its storytelling to audiences on both living room screens as well as the silver screen, with a host of launches in the works that will see the title pair up with TV production houses, the internet’s largest streaming services as well as Hollywood names.

This will also involve programming that follows New York Times journalists day-to-day reporting efforts in a program called 'The Fourth Estate' that will soon air on the Showtime network. Also in the works are multiple partnerships with Hollywood production companies such as Anonymous Content, plus separate efforts to bring its Harvey Weinstein investigation to the silver screen. In addition, it has also announced a tie-up with Netflix to take its long-running column 'Diagnosis' to the online streaming service’s viewership.

Sam Dolnick, assistant managing editor, New York Times, spoke of the title’s success at transitioning from print to digital – it has more than 3.6 million subscribers – and to audio, while he further explaining how “television is next”.

He added: “Over the past decades there's been this explosion in creativity in television, things from the large streaming platforms, The Times hasn't been part of it. We've chronicled it from the sidelines, but we haven't been there ourselves and we should be."

The legacy newspaper title is now equipped with a blueprint to bring its “signature DNA” in storytelling – namely accuracy, speed and an understanding of the medium – to new audiences, regardless of platform. “Once you start looking with that lens, you see opportunities everywhere on every page you can even fictional stories, which is brand new for the New York Times,” said Dolnick.

Twitter announces over 30 new premium content video deals

A week after it revealed that video accounted for over half of its advertising revenue in the first quarter of the year, Twitter chose its NewFront to unveil 30 premium video partnerships with content providers including BuzzFeed News, ESPN, Hearst Magazines Digital, NBCUniversal, and Viacom.

In a press release announcing the tie-ups, Twitter announced its return to the annual content pitch with an expanded slate of new live and original video programming across entertainment, news, sports, gaming and beyond.

Similarly to YouTube, the move could be construed as an attempt to provide advertisers with assurances over brand safety on the social network. “We're not guessing, we're listening. People tell us what they want to see with the conversations they share on Twitter,” read a statement attributed to Kay Madati, global head of content partnerships.

“In the past year, we’ve really expanded our efforts with the best publishers and content creators in the world to bring a slate of programming that reflects those diverse content interests.”

Headline programming that is now available on the social network includes content from NBC, NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, TODAY, and E! News, with a full list of the new partnerships available here.

Viacom Digital Studios has bet big on the power of influencers

Elsewhere, at Viacom Digital Studios’ Newfront showcased new content from each of its main networks — Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, and MTV — with an emphasis on how its newest acquisitions, Whosay and Vidcon, can help bring the corporation into the next generations of viewers.

Whosay, the influencer marketing firm, and Vidcon, the largest gathering of online-first talent, have now given Viacom a chance to cross over into streaming services and provide an offering to digital-first audiences.

During the event, it announced 4.3 billion views on social and 4.7 billion minutes of content viewed domestically in Q2, both marking over 70% increases from the year before. Although a study from Matrix Solutions showed that there’s been little excitement about original content from other traditionally-TV media companies like ESPN and BBC, Viacom’s numbers seem to show its brands of entertainment are bringing in eyeballs.

BBC underlined its global status with a host of new verticals

Meanwhile, the BBC used its NewFront to highlight its global scale trumpeting its 70 bureaus around the globe and also announced a host of new global verticals, including BBC Music, BBCReel, as well as two new AR/VR verticals World of Wonder and World’s Kitchen.

Jim Egan, BBC Global News, chief executive, said: “Our announcements today demonstrate the ambition of our content and our constant drive to lead in innovation whilst continuing to provide the safe and trusted environment that we uniquely offer our audience and our partners.”

Reporting by Bennett Bennett and Ronan Shields

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