What Buyers Liked—and Didn’t Like—About the Virtual NewFronts

Host Scott Rogowsky was a hit, but marketers had trouble making time to watch the whole lineup

Scott Rogowsky
Scott Rogowsky, who emceed the entire NewFronts week, received high marks from buyers. IAB/NewFronts
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Key insight:

The first-ever virtual NewFronts is in the books. Adweek has already rounded up the most memorable moments from last week’s events, and now it’s time for the buyers to have their say.

We granted buyers anonymity to tell us what they liked—and didn’t like—about the 2020 Digital Content NewFronts. Here’s what they thought:

The virtual event was a ‘double-edged sword’

Buyers appreciated not spending NewFronts week running around New York to attend various events. “It was nice not to have to go from place to place,” said one buyer.

But there was also a downside to the virtual format.

“It’s great that it’s so easy to pop in and out, and attend what you want to—but it is also easy to pop in and spend 45 minutes answering emails and not really engaging. In person they are harder to attend, but once you’re in, they have your (mostly) undivided attention,” said another buyer, who called the virtual format a “double-edged sword” for that reason.

Too big of a time commitment

While the IAB compressed each day into three or four hours of presentations, compared to the traditional 12-hour daily timespan, buyers said they still had trouble making the time in the midst of the pandemic, with everything else on their plates.

“There’s just no way, given everything in the world, to devote the time,” said one buyer. Agreed another, “the days are so booked; it was a lot of hours.”

While “they did a great job, unfortunately for them, Facebook took a lot of people’s time away,” said a marketer, referring to the growing advertiser boycott of Facebook that intensified and dominated headlines during NewFronts week.

Ironically, Facebook stole the show at NewFronts even though its actual presentation—a brief video showing how agencies, brands and creators used its tools to keep people engaged during the pandemic—was “lacking in innovation, something that the NewFronts usually have in spades,” according to one buyer.

A good format—and host

Despite not having enough time to devote to watch the events, buyers gave high marks to how the week was constructed, with each day focused on a different theme: Monday was streaming, Tuesday was lifestyle content, Wednesday was news and audio, Thursday was audiences and community, while Friday was gaming.

“I was impressed that the IAB was able to pull together a cohesive virtual program in such a short time,” said a buyer, with another noting that “it was all well-organized and easy enough to log in once you got everything set up.”

Another marketer liked that the panels didn’t feature “the same people talking about the same thing.”

Buyers applauded the choice of HQ Trivia alum Scott Rogowsky as the week’s host. “I thought he was great. He was the right person for the job,” said one.

Another buyer “loved” having Rogowsky emcee the event, explaining, “He did a great job tying everything together. It was nice to have some light moments built into the narrative.”

Room for scheduling improvement

While buyers liked the schedule, they wished the timing hadn’t been so haphazard, with most events starting at odd times like 12:13 or 2:26 p.m. “It would be helpful to have events be programmed in 30- or even 15-minute increments to accommodate day-to-day work tasks/meetings,” suggested one buyer. Instead, “we really had to dedicate 3-4 hours each day to watching/listening to events in order to digest and understand everything.”

Marketers also wished that the various segments and presenters would have been identified throughout the respective presentations, instead of just at the beginning. Said one, “it was jarring to leave the stream to take a call, only to come back and not know what was happening.”

Hoping for in-person NewFronts next year

While buyers were receptive to the virtual format, most hope that if Covid-19 is no longer a threat next year, the event will be held in person once again.

“I’ll be happy to have in-person NewFronts in 2021 and beyond, as I think that a lot of what we all appreciate about the NewFronts is the ability to interact with the larger media community in person, in real time,” said one buyer. If an in-person NewFronts still isn’t possible in 2021, “I would be disappointed to some degree, but overall I would be in favor of having virtual events if the alternative were no events at all.”

Additional reporting by Kelsey Sutton.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.