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DCNF 2014: Maker Studios

There was a very special feeling in the air at the 2014 Maker Studios NewFront presentation. The recently acquired multi-channel network was able to stay true to their roots while embracing and celebrating their future as part of the Walt Disney brand.  

As their new programming was unveiled throughout the evening, Maker creators scattered throughout the crowd were asked to stand up and receive applause for their work.  Chief Content Officer, Erin McPherson, made it very clear that Maker will continue to support the digital landscape with the mantra that “we are all makers.”  But they also showed how they plan to evolve on that message during a hilarious skit between the notorious Muppet Ms. Piggy and outlandish YouTube sensation P’trique. It was a poignant moment that showed we don’t have to ignore the past as we move into a bright ‘new’ future in the world of content.

For brands and marketers there was a lot of new information to take away from the event.  Maker Studios announced the creation of a new distribution platform, Maker.TV, which will house exclusive content from their creators.  It’ll be interesting to see if and how this impacts their current relationship with the YouTube platform.  Maker.TV should also help the company establish an identity in the marketing and advertising community as YouTube’s endless library of content often makes it difficult for planners to wrap their heads around.

In addition, the announcement of the “Maker Offers” platform showed Maker’s grand vision to allow brand content to achieve scale.  The UI appears quite simple and it’ll allow advertisers to RFP and interact with thousands of creators with the click of a button.  Throughout the evening Maker pressed the idea that brands are invited to, and should be eager to, get into the content creation process.

Finally, much was said about a shift towards premium content creation through Labs@Maker.  In 2014 they promise to deliver original programming with renowned artists and creators including Will.I.Am, Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead), and Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me).  On top of that, they teased the audience with the idea of new programming in the works that will build upon enormously successful Disney-owned and operated films such as Star Wars.

The Maker NewFront was unique in that it left a feeling not just of “wow, I can’t wait to see what happens next” but also a feeling that “wow, I should start talking to them right away.”  So many projects are in the pipeline for Maker, and with the added power of the Walt Disney Company I’m confident that they’ll deliver on their promises, and even surprise us with ideas that we never imagined.  I suppose it’s appropriate to say that the Walt Disney magic will definitely continue.

Written by Oliver Schenkel, Associate Director, Media/Content, DigitasLBi


DCNF 2014: National Geographic

The first issue of National Geographic magazine was released in 1888 to a world absent of both film and radio.  Over 120 years later, this non-for profit iconic brand continues to recognize and adapt to the times in order to meet consumer demand.  While adapting to the proper platform for distribution is certainly important, what impressed me most about the National Geographic NewFront was their overall strategy behind their digital original programming slate.

National Geographic appears to understand the need to tell stories in a unique way to make them stand out amongst the vast sea of content being created today.  The company’s underlying desires to “inspire, illuminate, and educate” was prevalent throughout much of the discussion.

The brand understands what makes them unique and what drives audience passion – made clear by the announcement of two new programs, Extreme Exposure and Photo Impact, which take us into the lives and stories of those behind the camera. There are men and women who risk their lives to let us see into a world we otherwise would never see.

In the Explorers Project, Nat Geo will offer an inside look at scientists out in the field and why they do their work.  The piece showcased during the presentation followed a scientist in Madagascar who had a unique take on the role of humans and nature.  This scientist doesn’t just retell the familiar conservation story; instead, he explains why and how humans must take advantage of nature around us to improve our lives.

Marketers may not know this, but National Geographic has one of the largest social media footprints of any publisher in the world.  Beautiful and un-matched photography is what drives consumers to “like”, “follow”, and engage with the brand.   If the right form of partnership is formulated and brands are able to connect with this passionate group in an organic and meaningful way, the impact could be enormous. 

I was personally surprised to learn that Nat Geo is a non-for profit organization, which made me think about the brand through a completely different lens.  There is a deep and meaningful force driving everything they do.  Listening to various explorers and photographers speak about their work made it very clear that National Geographic is the ultimate destination for many passionate experts.  

For many brands, Nat Geo should be looked at as an untapped resource.  The connected world we live in has created an ever-changing, oversaturated content eco-system - and brands are constantly striving to break through the clutter and be heard.   Branded content and co-creation continue to grow as a means for breaking through the clutter and providing something meaningful to viewers. Perhaps brands should also consider publicly standing alongside publishers like Nat Geo, whose altruistic cause has withstood the test of time.

Written by Oliver Schenkel, Associate Director, Media/Content, DigitasLBi


DCNF 2014: Wall Street Journal

After so many NewFront events, I went into The Wall Street Journal’s presentation trying to get motivated for another slate of new programming to compete in the now very fragmented digital lineup.  But what the WSJ presented was a point of view that differentiated themselves from the content aggregators and other publishers that serve as part time destinations but aren’t always able to quantify if they keep the same digital video audience from month to month. is a destination site first and foremost.  They’re not looking to compete with YouTube or AOL for volume of content and volume of audience.

What Robert Thomson, the CEO of NewsCorp did talk about was “that nostalgia was not a strategy.”  To that end, the Dow Jones team made their interesting acquisition of Storyful one of the focal points of the day.  Storyful has the real-time listening engine that brands love; on top of that, where it differs from other solutions is the licensing piece of the puzzle and relationship with partners like Getty Images.  Storyful can help identify the most reliable sources on the web about an upcoming piece of content/ topic and then marry that together with their licensing and syndication options.  A brand could use WSJ/ Storyful to find content, curate, make sure that the licensing and usage contracts were settled, and then repost it from their site.  Appropriately, the tagline is social content you can trust.

Beyond that, there was the touting of proprietary talent like Jason Bellini of The Short Answer who does PopUp Video style content for topics like ‘BitCoin Explained’ and ‘Is College Worth It.’ What’s interesting is WSJ Live and all the video will not live behind the Dow Jones paywall (although the paywall’s not going away - it’s the bulk of Dow Jones digital earnings).  For financial and premier brands that have always traditionally chosen the WSJ for brand safety and viewability, there are now new options worth exploring for brands that want to delve into first run content but need it to be less entertainment oriented.

Written by Lee Baler, VP/Group Director, Media, DigitasLBi


DCNF 2014: Vevo

At the Vevo “Upfront," it was social, social, social.  Did we say social?

With what has become the "wink-wink-Newfronts-nod" to TV buyers,  Vevo’s “Upfront" presentation did not disappoint.  Small, intimate and elegant, the West Village venue was well appointed, and was even decorated with the rock and roll celebrity prints of legendary photographer Ed Caraeff (Ed is the the father of Vevo CEO Rio Caraeff).  In just under an hour, Vevo announced seven new series and a live concert event - the retooled Certified - capped by performances from Mary Lambert and the guys from Great Big World. However, the big story was Vevo’s social relevance; 14 of the most shared videos of all time have been Vevo music videos.

What surprised me?  Their partnership announcement with Mirriad, a very cool new dynamic product placement technology that allows brands to be inserted dynamically (in visual context) into previously created content. Worth checking out:

The benefits for clients:  Huge scale, combined with proven social relevance – music video premieres regularly garner 10-20 million views in the first 48 hours post-launch.

Prediction for viability:  Vevo is hugely successful as a reach player, and has been gaining steam off the Youtube platform across OTT and other digital platforms.  74% of all views are now via mobile devices – and the Vevo mobile app has been very successful.  However, their original series still lag – most are still strictly brand-funded.

The takeaway: Vevo has been very consistent, sticking to music and related lifestyle content (largely fashion and style).  Their re-launch of the series Stylized (in partnership with Milk Studios) and the new show Get The Look (featuring Rachel Zoe) cements their commitment to fashion.  The question is whether or not they can continue to grow without a broader original content strategy.

Written by John McCarus, SVP/Social.Content, DigitasLBi



The Vice NewFront took place in the intimate Sunshine Theater in New York City’s Lower East Side.  The movie theater venue was an intentional choice to ensure that content was the focus of attention.  Vice founder and CEO Shane Smith and Chief Creative Officer Eddy Moretti also delivered concise but powerful messages between video segments.
Several major announcements were made during their presentation, and the decision of Shane Smith to deliver his message in a teleprompter-less fashion even led to the premature delivery of a few interesting stories.  First, Vice announced their new sports channel, which will focus on stories oft overlooked by mainstream media.  Brian Duffy, best known for his groundbreaking coverage of basketball in North Korea (with Dennis Rodman), will serve as the host for the channel’s first series.  
They also went into more detail around two of their recently announced channels, Munchies and Vice News.  The big story with Munchies is the new original program “Fresh off the Boat”, which is a food and travel program similar to CNN’s “Parts Unknown” - but told by a younger host in a much more progressive and irreverent manner.  For Vice News, the big announcement was that it will be featured in YouTube’s National Marketing campaign this June.  Smith’s two unplanned announcements were around the renewal of Vice Season Three on HBO, as well as a future in film for the brand.
Vice was by no means ready to promise a more subdued and “brand-safe” environment for marketers.  To the contrary, they continued to hammer home the point that their fully transparent approach is unique- and they promised to always deliver the truth, no matter how ugly.  Marketers willing to go outside their comfort zones and join Vice have a unique opportunity to ride the growing wave of the fearless content creation brand.  There are certainly risks involved, but any brand with a strong desire to connect with millennials should certainly stop to take a second look.  
“These are the stories we tell, the ones that our audience cares about the most,” said Eddy Moretti. “We want you, the advertisers, to come and tell the stories with us.”  
The safest but likely most expensive way for brands to work with Vice is via a co-creation partnership; Moretti highlighted the partnership between Intel and Vice where they made the highly successful web-series ‘The Creator’s Project’.
During the 2014 DigitasLBi NewFront, Eli Parisier , Co-founder of Upworthy, drew much praise for his message, “If you want to stand out, you have to stand for something.”  Vice is the perfect example of a brand that has embraced this motto through their unwavering desire to deliver unfiltered, powerful stories to an audience hungry for the truth.  The unique and ‘fearless’ approach of Vice has led to rapid growth, and propelled the brand to the forefront of millennial conversation.  
Shane Smith made it quite clear that advertising dollars are not his number one priority.  He even took it a step further by making fun of how risky their content can be for brands.  However, his sincere passion and grand vision for building upon his revolutionary brand were clear; he closed the presentation with the prophetic message for advertisers: “Mobile, online, TV, film — we’re coming.”

Written by Oliver Schenkel, Associate Director, Media/Content