By Lori H. Schwartz

April 2014

Day One Overview of the New Fronts

The NewFronts are here and the annual schlep to see the latest from the digital side of the content business is upon us.  It’s a sprint to get to the venues from each of the players as they showcase their offerings over two to three hour slots in a variety of large warehouse type spaces all over the Westside of NY.

The first day featured presentations by the NYTimes, Buzzfeed, Xbox and Yahoo…it’s fascinating to look at all the content in the aggregate, even at this early point in the week, where it’s clear there are similar themes and trends in the offerings.

Some trends….


1) Having a Solution/Partnership for Live Streaming, Live Content.

Xbox is partnering with Superfly to exclusively live-stream the 13th annual Bonnaroo music and arts festival in June. Yahoo is partnering with concert presenter Live Nation Entertainment to live-stream a full concert every day for an entire year, beginning this summer. The content will be available via a Live Nation channel on Yahoo Screen, with Kellogg’s on board as an initial sponsor.

2) Vertical Driven Content

The NY Times debuted it’s video effort with 14 channels on it’s new video hub: U.S. and Politics, International, Opinion, Times Documentaries, Business, Technology, Culture, Style, Health, Food, Travel, Sports, Real Estate and Science. Yahoo has doubled down on sports with a deal with the NFLto bring in-game highlights to Yahoo Sports and a new travel magazine format show.  Xbox has it’s obvious gaming content and specifically everyone is waiting for the ‘HALO’ series from Steven Speilberg .

3) The Rebirth of the Documentary

Xbox is premiering, “Signal to Noise”/“Atari: Game Over”. The series will expose little known stories of how modern technology has radically altered the way we interact with our world.  The NY Times has a documentary channel on Times Video-  “Times Documentaries,” featuring a variety of projects with new and well-known filmmakers.

3) Partnerships with Distributers Beyond Their Own Portals. The New York Times has inked a deal with Vimeo.

4) A Focus and Blend of ‘Native’ Advertising Content with Original Programming

New York Times

The NY Times came out strong announcing their new “video channel”, which is an aggregated area for all their video channels. Sound familiar?

In an era where news organizations are shutting down offices and laying off staff, the Times is doubling down on video and staff and they’ve done an excellent job in taking the NY Times brand esthetic and applying it to video, insuring the translation of their brand, their IP, to all that they do. They refer to their teams and offices as “story engines” and are training journalists to use their smart phones as professional video tool kits.  Note: if you happen to have been to the NAB Show this year, you’ll know that there are plenty of PRO-iphone video tools available that are democratizing the ability to create professional video on the fly.

There are more than 30 series available across Times Video, covering categories like food, fashion, sports, culture, and long-form documentary films with more 430 videos being created per month.

For advertisers, The Times has an internal studio of about a dozen people that produces content on behalf of brands. Video branded playlists are one of their products and Sotheby’s International Realty is the first advertiser to use it with a campaign that takes viewers inside Sotheby properties.

Where it gets interesting is in discoverability.  While it’s clear what’s a paid or branded post, all the content, branded and non, shares the search engine.

This is where native advertising is starting to have a strong role with all the providers…that tricky blend again of providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats tend to match both the form and the function of the user experience in which it is placed.  And while the NY Times announced it’s foray into Native Advertising in February, it’s native post are more clearly defined then most “This page was produced by the Advertising Department of The New York Times in collaboration with ‘BRAND’. The news and editorial staffs of The New York Times had no role in its preparation.”  This is an important step for the NY Times who want to be extremely transparent as they dance in the native ad space.


Buzzfeed, by far, stood out for me just because it literally has a unique and fascinating model. BuzzFeed has generated more than 1.08 billion video views since September 2012   “Video has been the biggest shift in our business,” said BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti.

Buzzfeed, has made a science of the shareability of creative content beyond just analytics. Their philosophy is to get closer to the consumer by releasing content quickly, getting feedback and then adapting that content.  They understand the power of the niche audience, the uber influencer that is narrow in the demographic sense but deep down in the purchase funnel. They continue to measure social lift of their content and have a modern approach to growing their own talent by encouraging their video content creators to understand how their own content is doing, not depending on researchers or a separate team to give them insights. In fact, their content creators are not silo’ed into writers, editors, and production staff but are instead encouraged to be creators of the whole product.

They’ve literally categorized how people share by the following categories and are creating content around these categorizations.

Identity- Content that expresses yourself, your identity

Emotional gift – Content that expresses how you feel, “…here friend, feel this too… I feel this.”

Social information – Content that expresses a viewpoint, “…here friend, have some information”

Nick Spiekermann, director of content, community and partnerships for Nestle Purina, describes the experience of working with BuzzFeed as “collaborative.” The Nestle Purina content team regularly meets with the BuzzFeed team for knowledge and inspiration.”


Over a year ago Microsoft and Xbox began getting its sexy back in the content space with the appointment of former CBS Television president Nancy Tellem as Microsoft’s president of entertainment and digital media; and the announcement of some big titles and partnerships in development like a “Halo”-inspired TV series executive produced by Steven Spielberg.

Microsoft’s theme, which if they really nail could be amazing, was integration of all of their platforms and interactivity of their content.  With MSN, Microsoft Office Products and Xbox, that integration could be very powerful but they haven’t managed to do it yet.  While they didn’t demonstrate that specifically to advertising, they alluded to the possibilities.   “Specific to this device and this platform, we have the ability to create interactivity that is relatively seamless — especially when compared to most networks,” said Jordan Levin, EVP of Xbox Entertainment.   Xbox can integrate commerce from its storefront into its programming…  Levin himself is new to Xbox, having recently left Generate, a digital media company where he was CEO and that was acquired by Alloy in 2012. He’s also the Chair of NATPE’s executive committee and his hiring is another signal of Microsoft’s serious approach to having Xbox play big in the TV space.

“Possibilia,” an interactive narrative, was just one of the many original films and series Microsoft showed off as part of a slate of original programming called Xbox Originals. All Originals will have “interactive capabilities.”

Xbox is also playing with a variety of distribution models, windowing and monetization…there is no silver bullet yet.


Overall, Yahoo’s video strategy is comprised of four different parts: original programming, live events, video within its new and upcoming crop of digital magazines, and licensed TV content. After launchingYahoo Tech and Yahoo Food magazines earlier this year, Yahoo has launched Yahoo Travel. The digital magazines will feature various types of video content, including original series.

Yahoo spent much of its presentation talking about Tumblr, native ads and brand lift from search and display ads.  Marisa Mayer discussed the importance of Tumblr to the Yahoo! network at the beginning of the presentation. There’s a great social TV report on Tumblr which is a fascinating picture of how relevant and important Tumblr is to the TV industry(1). Tumblr is less about driving to tune in at that moment in time and more about extending that’s shows experience through fan generated content (more on the report at http://www.pulsarplatform.com/).

Finally, Yahoo said it’s integrating with comScore vCE measurement tool. Initially, the solution will be available on video and display buys for US advertisers, with plans to expand the capability to mobile and international in “later phases” of the partnership.

Here are highlights from the Tumblr TV study.[1]

  • The conversation around TV is larger and lasts longer on Tumblr than Twitter.
    • 70% of TV-related mentions pertaining to shows in study occurred on Tumblr
    • Tumblr buzz rises in anticipation toward a show’s airtime and continues to increase in the hours and days thereafter.
      • Like Twitter, TV-related conversations are happening on Tumblr in real-time, but engagement on Tumblr peaks (31% increase) one hour after a show has aired. In contrast, Twitter exhibits a peak at airtime and declines immediately in the 1-2 hours after.
    • Engagement on Tumblr sustains at an increased level for days after the show has aired.
    • Advertising window is longer on Tumblr (i.e. Nielsen Live+3 Ratings)
  • On Tumblr, fans immerse themselves in their show’s universe, create their own narratives, and advocate for the show.
    • 71% of Tumblr TV interactions are driven by behaviors related to storytelling, creativity and community.
    • Tumblr not about check-ins, but expanding a 30-60 minute episode into a weeklong conversation.
    • For all shows, the majority of posts are reblogs, driving huge distribution across the network.

Some New Show Lists[2]

New York Times

  • “Verbatim,” a comedy series which reenacts courtroom scenes, word for word
  • “36 Hours,” based on the popular Sunday column, the Times editorial team takes you to the most interesting locales on Earth
  • “Bits,” based on the popular tech column, focusing on the tech of tomorrow
  • “Science Take,” which will explore the world of science, nature, and physics
  • “Luminaries,” focusing on visionaries who are trying to change the planet
  • “Machine Learning,” a tech series hosted by Molly Wood, who will try to make tech more understandable to everyday people
  • “Mark Bittman Cooks With,” a food series hosted by Bittman, where he cooks with and interviews guests like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama (neither are confirmed yet, though, but gives you an idea of the type of guests the show will look to have)
  • “Corner Office,” interview series in which Adam Bryant sits down with CEOs


Committed Projects

“Halo” television series

The “Halo” television series is a groundbreaking original series based on the award-winning “Halo” franchise. Award-winning filmmaker, director and producer Steven Spielberg will executive produce the live-action TV series, created in partnership with 343 Industries and Amblin Television.

“Every Street United”

“Every Street United” is an unscripted series of eight, thirty-minute episodes and a one-hour finale, featuring legendary soccer players Thierry Henry and Edgar Davids, focused on the global search for soccer’s most gifted and undiscovered street stars scouted across eight countries (United States, England, Argentina, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, Ghana and South Korea). The series culminates this July in a 4v4 street game finale in the shadow of the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

Each episode will feature unique and incisive narratives about the grassroots street stars and the communities that shaped them. Industry veteran and eight-time Emmy-Award winning producer, director, writer and editor Jonathan Hock (“Streetball,” “30 for 30: The Best That Never Was”) is directing the series. Emmy-Award winning producer Mike Tollin and Mandalay Sports Media are executive producing. Professional soccer luminaries, Henry and Davids, will serve as coaches for the 4v4 street game in Rio. “Every Street United” will premiere in June 2014. All episodes will be available through Xbox Video for Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows 8 (PC and Surface) and Windows Phone 8.


Xbox owners around the globe can experience the magic of the 13th annual Bonnaroo music and arts festival with a live concert destination on Xbox Live Friday, June 13 through Sunday, June 15, 2014, brought to viewers in partnership with Superfly Presents. With the Bonnaroo app, fans can enjoy live music like never before, with a virtual experience featuring the best performances, multiple stages, biggest artists and amazing SuperJams, and explore this year’s lineup to see the best of Bonnaroo’s past with exclusive performances. Fans can also join the conversation with fellow virtual-Bonnaroovians and get connected to their friends and the festival. Xbox is the exclusive broadcasting partner for Bonnaroo and the only location to get all of the interactive features.

“Signal to Noise”/“Atari: Game Over”

Xbox is creating a new six film documentary series, “Signal to Noise,” (working title) with two-time Academy Award winning producer Simon Chinn (“Searching for Sugar Man” and “Man on Wire”) and Emmy® winning producer Jonathan Chinn (FX’s “30 Days” and PBS’s “American High”), through their multi-platform media company, Lightbox. The series will expose little known stories of how modern technology has radically altered the way we interact with our world.

The first installment, “Atari: Game Over” (working title), explores the fabled Atari mystery, dubbed “The Great Video Game Burial of 1983.” As the legend goes, the Atari Corporation, faced with overwhelmingly negative response to the E.T. video game, disposed of millions of unsold game cartridges by burying them in the small town of Alamogordo, New Mexico. Fuel Entertainment took an interest in the legend, and in December 2013, with help from local garbage contractor Joe Lewandowski, acquired the exclusive rights to excavate the Alamogordo landfill. Fuel Entertainment then brought the opportunity to Xbox Entertainment Studios. The team will head to the landfill in question to determine if the story is true, interviewing a cast of characters related to the game and its mystery along the way. “Atari: Game Over” is directed by writer/director Zak Penn (“X-Men 2,” “Avengers,” and “Incident at Loch Ness”). It will air exclusively on Xbox One and Xbox 360 in 2014.


“Humans” is a bold new drama co-produced with UK broadcaster Channel 4.  Award-winning UK production company Kudos (“The Hour,” “Utopia,” “Broadchurch”) will produce the hour-long, eight-episode series, which will share a premiere broadcast window on the Xbox platform and Channel 4 in the UK in 2015.

Executive produced by Jane Featherstone (“Life on Mars,” “Broadchurch”) and Derek Wax (“The Hour,” “Sex Traffic”), and written by British writing team Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley (“Spooks,” “Spooks: The Greater Good”), “Humans” is an English-language adaptation of Sveriges Television and Matador Film’s acclaimed Swedish series, “Real Humans.”  “Humans” is set in a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a ‘Synth’ – a highly-developed robotic servant eerily similar to its live counterpart. In the hope of transforming the way they live, one strained suburban family purchases a refurbished synth only to discover that sharing life with a machine has far-reaching and chilling consequences. Casting for “Humans” will begin in May 2014, and production will commence later this summer.

“Halo” digital feature

343 Industries and Scott Free Productions are creating a “Halo” digital feature to be released later this year. The project will be executive produced by Ridley Scott and Scott Free TV President, David Zucker. Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Pillars of the Earth,” “Heroes”) will direct.

Projects in Development


Xbox Entertainment Studios has committed to a script based on the successful pen-and-paper role-playing game created by Shane Lacy Hensley. “Deadlands” is a genre-bending alternative history of the Weird West, filled with undead gunfighters, card-slinging sorcerers, mad scientists, secret societies, and fearsome abominations.

“Extraordinary Believers”

Xbox Entertainment Studios is developing an innovative, hybrid stop-motion show dubbed “Extraordinary Believers” (working title) with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, creators of the Emmy®-Award winning “Robot Chicken,” the longest running stop-motion show on television. The executive producers on the project are Seth Green, Matt Senreich, and creators/writers/executive producers are Eric Towner and John Harvatine IV.


“Fearless,” (working title) is an unscripted series currently in pilot production starring Paul de Gelder, an Australian Navy bomb clearance diver and shark attack survivor who takes on an adrenaline-fueled quest to aid individuals who risk their lives to make the world a better place. “Fearless” will be produced by Australia’s International Emmy®-Award winning production company, Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder (CJZ).

“Gun Machine”

Xbox Entertainment Studios acquired the rights to “Gun Machine,” a hardboiled detective thriller based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Warren Ellis. Ellis will executive produce with Brett Conrad (“The Killing,” “Sons of Anarchy,” Netflix’s upcoming “Marco Polo”) who has signed on to write the pilot script about a detective tracking a serial killer who is tied to a mysterious collection of guns used in infamous New York murders.

Untitled JASH Comedy/Variety Half Hour

In this unique comedy format developed by Xbox Entertainment Studios with JASH (a comedy collective founded by Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim and Eric and Reggie Watts), the biggest names in comedy will showcase the people that make them laugh. Each week, a different comedian will host/curate a show featuring new and unsung talent, in various video formats. Sarah Silverman will host the pilot episode and Daniel Kellison (“Late Night/Late Show with David Letterman,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Crank Yankers”) will executive produce. The series has a pilot commitment and will begin shooting in June.


Xbox Entertainment Studios and IDW Entertainment are co-developing a limited event live-action series based on Chuck Dixon and artist Jorge Zaffino’s seminal graphic novel series “Winterworld,” in which our world has been encased in ice from pole-to-pole. The surviving humans have formed tribes that war, enslave and trade with one another in an effort to survive the infinite winter. Ted Adams and David Ozer from IDW Entertainment, and Rick Jacobs and Dave Alpert from Circle of Confusion (“Walking Dead”) will executive produce.


  • Two New Original Comedies on Yahoo Screen: Yahoo is announcing the first two original comedies in Yahoo’s new lineup of long-form shows. From three-time Emmy nominee Paul Feig(Freaks and Geeks, Bridesmaids, The Office), “Other Space,” is a galactic adventure in a universe far stranger and more dangerous than ours. From executive producer Mike Tollin (One Tree Hill, Smallville, and Varsity Blues) and two-time Emmy nominated director Bryan Gordon (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, Party Down), “Sin City Saints,” is an off-beat comedy set in the front office of a fictional pro basketball expansion team. More info here.
  • Yahoo Live: Yahoo Live is the company’s latest initiative to bring live, unscripted moments to the web. This summer, a new Live Nation channel on Yahoo Screen will begin producing the largest collection of concert live streams on the web: one live concert, every day, 365 days a year. Kellogg’s is the first to announce its sponsorship of the Live Nation Channel. As part of the Yahoo Live initiative, Yahoo is also partnering with the NFL to bring a new digital experience, NFL Now, to Yahoo Sports. It will feature instant highlights of in-progress match-ups, live stats, and live analysis of your favorite teams and players. And Yahoo Live will also be there for some of the hottest entertainment moments — from the red carpet, to the summer’s biggest blockbusters. More info here.
  • Yahoo Travel: Following the January launches of Yahoo Tech and Yahoo Food, Yahoo is introducing Yahoo Travel, a new digital magazine that provides all the inspiration and information you need for your next adventure. Yahoo Travel offers seamless native advertising, with sponsored articles and videos that are just as engaging as the stories around them.  Brands can connect with readers through beautiful images, compelling videos, and sharable stories. Las Vegas and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts are the launch sponsors as Yahoo Travel takes off. More info here.