What the BBC may lack in cool, it wants to make up for with principles and its position as a global news provider with audiences and a physical presence all over the world.
During its NewFront in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, the organization’s second, BBC news presenters like Katty Kay and executives made the case for advertisers to spend their money with a “truly global” (as read the tagline for the event) partner that sees 1.5 billion page views a month from 150 million visitors and has access through the web, radio and television to 450 million households a month. Liz Corbin, head of BBC World News, also highlighted that the company’s reporting now comes in 42 languages and from 74 news bureaus.
Corbin revealed that on Monday, Ahmed Shah, a BBC reporter and photographer working out of the Afghanistan bureau for just over a year, was shot and killed in an attack on a day that saw nine other journalists killed in two bombings. Corbin managed to tie in the tragedy with the importance of the BBC’s extensive coverage, saying “never has the world needed the BBC more than it does now.”
Jim Egan, chief executive officer of BBC Global News, echoed that sentiment, noting that “editorial trust and commercial trust go hand in hand,” but urged the advertisers in the room to not go the way of blacklisting news organizations from their spending because of today’s polarized times.
“If you’re worried about the state of the news, blacklisting is not going to solve the problem,” Egan, said. “Advertise on our feature sites or even with our competitors, if you prefer, but don’t deny serious journalists a livelihood.”
But the BBC is trying to ramp up its cool side as well. It’s officially launching a full U.S. arm of its BBC Music franchise, a long-time and well-known part of the brand in the U.K.,
“In the U.K., BBC is as synonymous with music as it is with news,” Richard Pattinson, a senior vice president of BBC’s StoryWorks division, said.
With the U.S. launch, the BBC will be rolling out “in-depth” music journalism and related lifestyle content, along with live events, creating what StoryWorks director Aaron Tabas called “one of the most perfect platforms for brands to reach music fans.”
This announcement drew the most lively applause, and even prompted one audience member to turn to another guest and say: “Ok, let’s give ‘em $10 million.”
A few blocks away, at Viacom’s first NewFront, there was nary a mention of journalism, but plenty of self-conscious attempts at keeping things light, young and mobile.
Kelly Day, president of Viacom Digital Studios, said she figured the crowd “needed a laugh,” partly because she expected many people there were at the BBC presentation. And there was a particularly competitive tone to Viacom’s presentation.
“Forget fake news gurus who claim they can add clout to your brand by tweeting your content,” a voiceover during an extended video portion of the day said. “We invented youth culture… the gateway drug to ad targeting nirvana… and somehow we manage to get it all inside the device you carry.”
Arturo Castro, best-known for his role of Jaime on “Broad City,” served as emcee in a bit of synergistic promotion for his new Comedy Central series “Alternatino,” but most of the other appearances skewed younger, as Viacom presented itself as the arbiter of youth. Another video presentation showed teens and adolescents talking about how connected (or addicted, depending on you point of view) they are to their phones, in particular. One young woman said she’d recently lost her driver’s license but cared “way less about that than I would about losing my phone.”
The conglomerate also threw out statistics such as: 90 percent of teens say they “can’t live” without their phone, and 81 percent see the Internet as important as food and sleep. And Viacom mentioned several times that it has an overall social footprint of 850 million viewers a month.
Viacom said it knows its young audience, and what they want is content that is where they are, which is why it’s partnering with Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat on a string of new original shows and content for the platforms from the likes of MTV, BET and Comedy Central. VH1 was entirely absent from the day’s presentation, as was any talk of Viacom’s expected acquisition of CBS.
Sean Moran, Viacom’s head of marketing and partnerships, didn’t hedge in assuring the audience that the conglomerate is “turning the digital world into an experiential event.”
Twitter won the day for both flash and length with a presentation that lasted almost two hours and included at least a dozen appearances and speakers, largely celebrating the platform’s push into live video content.
There was Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons, a big Twitter user who was also the first guest on the new Twitter show “The Warmup,” a live talkshow focused on the NBA; Will Packer, the film producer behind “Girls Trip” and “Straight Outta Compton,” among many others, who introduced his collaboration with Twitter on “Power Star,” a live show inspired by and based on the #BlackTwitter community; and Liz Plank, a producer and correspondent with Vox who will be hosting the live show “Divided States of Women,” based on what she said is her desire to make feminism “really fun.”
Twitter’s desire for live video stems in part from the medium’s growth — the platform said video views doubled last year and ads within video now count for more than half of its ad revenue. Media players like BuzzFeed, Bloomberg and The Huffington Post are also continuing to work with Twitter on original live video content, as is Hearst, Ellen DeGeneres’ own digital studio and Viacom.
A big part of its video expansion is coming through a new “long-term” partnership with NBC Universal, which will distribute through Twitter live video from NBC, NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, Today, and E! News. Overall, Twitter has doubled its number of brand partnerships this year.
Matt Derella, Twitter’s vice president of global revenue and operations, said the partnership will create “wall to wall original live content” on the platform.
Twitter is also positioning its new “Creators Originals” segment, which will produce original scripted content from high-profile Twitter personalities and influencers, as a “solution” for advertisers because brands can directly participate in the content and get “in-stream” video sponsorships.
And why advertisers should want to even be present on Twitter came down to a pretty clear script, albeit one that did not mention the platform’s relatively small – at least when compared to Facebook and Instagram – active monthly user base of 330 million. Twitter users are purportedly more engaged with issues and what’s happening in the moment. Derella, in a small dig at Facebook and Instagram said, “Twitter is not about ‘Look at me,’ it’s about ‘Look at this.’”
Twitter is attempting to position itself as the platform that not only can give brands a place to take a stance on an issue (another stat thrown out was that half of people make purchases based on their beliefs, and two thirds of that group will not buy from a brand that “stays silent on an issue”), but one that allows them to be a part of whatever is happening.
“Ultimately, allowing brands to be a part of the cultural zeitgeist in real time, that’s really our superpower,” Kay Madati, who recently left BET to become Twitter’s global vice president and head of partnerships, said. “And we’re not guessing, we’re listening. People tell us what they want to see through conversations on Twitter.”
The same day it was revealed that Aleksandr Kogan, one of the main figures behind Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm that leveraged Facebook data to influence the 2016 election, had in 2015 received access to Twitter user data. That wasn’t even mentioned, however. Apparently data privacy is not a subject for a NewFront.