Admit it: Business meetings are pretty dour, save for a few notable events. The annual upfront and digital newfront presentations, the dog-and-pony shows where TV and digital networks and producers show off their upcoming slate for advertisers, are one of those spectacles.
While all the presenters have the key goal of getting their content to stand out, the ways they go about it vary greatly. Here's some of the most notable strategies from this spring's events that wrapped Thursday.
Best presentation? YouTube
Forget the TV broadcast and cable networks: For the flashiest, most expensive presentation of the year, look no further than Brandcast. YouTube's annual newfront presentation had a preparty at New York's Moynihan Station, the actual event in the theater at Madison Square Garden, and the late night post-party back at Moynihan Station. It reached capacity several times, meaning literally no one wanted to leave.
While the event itself didn't present any new programming, didn't announce any new ad offerings or even provide much new information about the online video platform, it did hammer in the point that Google (which owns YouTube) has a lot of money, and it's not afraid to show it.
The main Brandcast presentation featured performances by singer Nate Ruess and dancer Alyson Stoner, who made viral waves when she danced as a child in Missy Elliott's "Work It" music video. Its finale was no-holds-barred spectacle by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson of "Uptown Funk," the unofficial song of the newfronts—seriously it was played in almost every presentation. Even more impressive was the fact that each performer was only tapped for one song, which means YouTube footed the bill for all that set design, set up and take down for a segment lasting less than five minutes.
Read More Guess what Big Media pitched the ad guys
If that weren't enough, YouTube surprised attendees with a DJ performance by Snoop Dogg at the after party. Not only did Uncle Snoop spin tracks with aplomb, he also ad-libbed during the multiple times that sound cut out. And, he kept interest at an all-time high by handing out several blunts throughout the presentation. "Hold up! I've got more!" he told the crazed media buyers as they smushed toward the front to get a hit.
YouTube did not respond to requests for comment, but we checked the phones of attendees—many of whom were taking selfies with the blunts—for confirmation.
Notable honorable mentions go to:
- Hulu, which got actual stars to show up including James Franco and Amy Poehler;
- Vevo, which featured several musical performances by talent so up-and-coming we can't remember their names;
- CW, which had an extended musical set—well, three songs—by Of Monsters and Men;
- FX, which hosted its sixth annual bowling party where its stars awkwardly mingle with the common ad and press folk. (We can confirm that Louis C.K. likes his buffet roast beef well done.) While attendees didn't learn much about the new programming, they did remember that Cuba Gooding Jr. was starring in a new show, because seriously, you couldn't turn around without seeing that guy somewhere near you. Full disclosure: We did hang around the buffet and the bar quite a bit, so our opinion may be skewed.
- Turner Broadcasting's Adult Swim, who got joint-toking Miley Cyrus to perform, accompanied by special guest the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne on some songs. Did we mention she was wearing a butterfly suit with pasties? Quote of the evening, per Variety: "Are you guys drunk yet? Are you guys high yet?... No? You're going to be at a show where I'm dressed as a f------ butterfly and not be high?I'm down to share."
The early risers
Having a 9 a.m. presentation time may mean you'll get bleary-eyed media buyers who were out partying the night before. That wasn't an issue for multichannel network Whistle Sports, which hired a full-fledged marching band to kick things off without warning.
ESPN took the tactic of lining its reception area with sports mascots including Duke's Blue Devil, Lou Seal from the San Francisco Giants and the New York Jets Flight Crew. They enthusiastically herded people into the presentation, giving special attention to one person who decided to sprint up the stairs of Minskoff Theater as opposed to the sluggish attendees who preferred to cling to the escalator. Everyone was definitely awake, but many didn't look too thrilled to be cheered on as they poured coffee for themselves.
Maker Studios and Complex took the approach of supplying their attendees with booze during their early presentations. Perhaps the best strategy to make sure that people pay attention at your presentation is to ensure they are hung over at the other ones.
The live performances
To further prove that their networks know what's cool and hip, many trotted out at least one live performance. While some like YouTube, CW and Turner Broadcasting got it right by hiring some of the buzziest names, other networks had some interesting choices.
For one thing, NBC Universal, parent company of CNBC, hired Dolly Parton to perform during its upfront. While it made complete sense for the network, which announced several Parton-themed TV movies, it did seem a little dated. However, Parton brought down the house, at one point accompanied by NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt. Deadline reported that Greenblatt paused the presentation for 15 minutes so he could accompany Parton on the piano during "I Will Always Love You."
Of course, that lead ABC to skewer NBC's musical talent choices.
"Glad Dolly Parton will always love you," Jimmy Kimmel said on the stage. "After what you made us sit through, no one else will."
But then ABC ended its presentation with a performance of the 1995 hit "This Is How We Do It" by Montell Jordan, complete with painfully changed lyrics referencing ABC shows. The only saving grace was watching Joan Allen on stage dancing to the song, which made watching the entire upfront completely worth it.