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Five Takeaways From NewFronts 2021: YouTube to E-Commerce

The NewFronts are an annual event where digital content companies pitch marketers in the hopes they'll spend their advertising dollars with them. But with the pandemic shifting consumer behavior even more online, this year's virtual festivities marked changing habits that are here to stay. 
Here's some of the key things to note: 

YouTube Is Still the King of User-Generated Content … For Now 

Though many digital platforms have launched and become worldwide phenomena, YouTube still is the top platform when it comes to user-created content that brands will want to put advertising dollars behind. It saw a surge in viewership during the pandemic, and now reaches 120 million monthly viewers. 
"When it comes to streaming TV, YouTube is the absolute goliath," said Eric Schmitt, senior director analyst at Gartner. "Eighty percent of U.S. adults are using it. It's not only the reach. It's the time spent critically. It's the tie-offs on the back end to the search data and to the display data (from Google)."
YouTube is the number one ad-supported video platform in terms of reach and watch time, according to comScore, and its ad revenue came in at $6 billion for the quarter according to Alphabet's latest earnings report in May, up 49 percent year-over-year. 
But YouTube does have up-and-coming challengers, especially in Amazon's Twitch. It also experienced a pandemic boom, seeing 100 percent year-over-year growth in viewership between January 2020 and January 2021 per StreamElements. As a whole, Amazon's ad-supported video efforts also reached 120 million monthly viewers, up from just 20 million a month in January 2020. 
The main challenge for these platforms and others that rely on user-generated content will be convincing brands that their content is just as good as what you get on traditional TV, Schmitt pointed out. In his talks with advertising agencies and brands, he was surprised to find out that many still think of YouTube just as a place for one-off viral videos. 
"Many of them still perceive YouTube as the place for funny cat videos," he said. "I feel it hasn't quite sunk in for media planners. The reality is that it's ensconced on TVs. People are sitting at dinner watching how-to videos for weekend projects. It's not just just kids watching cat videos. The content has gotten longer." 

Customers Don't Mind Ads If It Makes Streaming Services Cheaper

One-in-three homes are now cordcutters and half the time of 18 to 34-year-olds viewing content is spent on streaming, Levin added. Roku now has 53.6 million active accounts, up 35 percent year-over-year. 
As budgets get tighter, people are more open to free or low-cost services — even if that comes with ads. Deloitte reported that ad-supported viewership increased throughout the pandemic, with 58 percent of Gen Z using at least one service, and 47 percent of U.S. consumers as a whole used one free ad-supported service since the pandemic, compared to 40 percent before. 
And, advertisers are noticing the shift.
"Streaming not only has a seat at the table this year, but clients are starting first with streaming," said Alison Levin, vice president of ad sales and strategy at Roku. "They're really leaning into 'buy TV like they watch TV.'" 

Premium Entertainment Doesn't Need to Come From Traditional Media

With production slowing down, people tuned into more user-generated content on platforms like YouTube, Twitch, Snapchat, and TikTok. And while the content might not be the same as traditional, episodic television, it still showed the same levels of interest and engagement. 
"The line between user-generated content and professional content has blurred," Gartner's Schmitt said. "There's a lot of middle ground now." 
TikTok videos got songs like the 30-year-old "Dreams" from Fleetwood Mac on the charts again, while also helping products like the infamous TikTok leggings sell out. 
"People come to TikTok to watch and to be engaged," said Sandie Hawkins, general manager of North American Global Business Solutions for TikTok. "That's why it's really taking off. It's this opportunity for people to share what they're interested in and to show their love, and they show their love through selling out products, and they share that love through making songs famous." 

Get Ready for Even More 'Exclusive' Shows 

If you hit the end of your Netflix queue during the pandemic, just wait … there's more to come across the streaming landscape. During this year's NewFronts, Roku unveiled its plans for the Quibi content it purchased earlier this year as part of its first foray into original content. Twitter also announced deals with the NBA, WNBA, and NHL for exclusive live sports content and NBCUniversal for exclusive news broadcasts. 
Amazon will stream several Thursday Night Football games exclusively starting in 2022and will introduce new IMDB TV original series including a new court show featuring Judge Judy Sheindlin and a drama produced by Law and Order's Dick Wolf. 
Not to be left behind, Fox's Tubi also said it will have more than 140 hours of original Tubi documentaries from Fox Alternative Entertainment and animated programming from Fox Entertainment and Bento Box Entertainment, among other content from Fox properties. 

Online Shopping Is Here to Stay 

E-commerce grew across all demographics during the pandemic. Last year, Americans spent $791.7 billion shopping online, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's up 32 percent from 2019.
Amazon and Conde Nast also unveiled shoppable content abilities on their programming during this year's presentations. And other platforms, ranging from Roku to TikTok believe they can help facilitate helping companies find customers. 
"We look at TikTok as being the place that we're really shortening the path to purchase," Hawkins said. "We have people creating content ... on behalf of brands, and then really what you're doing is you're creating that real-time feedback on 'I saw something. I see somebody who's like me using it. I see how easy it is. It looks great.' And, then people want to have it. And then as more people are posting about it, it's really real-time reviews that are happening."
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