May 20, 2024

Upfronts, NewFronts, and “New” Frontiers

Upfronts and NewFronts, the annual advertising events at which publishers and platforms showcase their upcoming content, attempt to reflect the maxim “The only constant is change.” This year, however, it felt like déjà vu. Here, GALE Chief Innovation Officer Ben James shares his observations from the 2024 gatherings.

Ben James


With impressive highlight reels and A-list celebrities who cloak even the dullest of brand strategies in entertaining presentations, Upfronts are touted as a projection of what the future of the media landscape will look like. Yet, this year, many of the themes felt familiar. The key topics of 2023–navigating AI, measuring audience attention, and investing in sports–were still there, albeit with slight tweaks. Still, there’s value in understanding these shifts as content continues to evolve. Here’s how familiar themes are changing . . . a bit.

AI went from apocalyptic to adopted

Last year, AI was deemed a threat to intellect and incomes–considered a cheat for writing term papers and a thief of jobs. This year, attitudes towards AI are more hopeful. It has been reframed as a tool to simplify a consumer’s life. Samsung, for instance, promoted how AI translates languages in their phones, enhances their washers and dryers, and improves the audio and video quality of their TVs. 

Meta attempted to woo advertisers with a tool to predict which organic branded content would excel in paid partnership ads–which means more effective, pinpointed content for consumers. And Google hyped Audience Persona, a tool that uses generative AI to describe and then find those very consumers. With these applications of AI that make it easier to, in the case of Samsung, focus on connecting with international penpals rather than deciphering their notes, AI has finally got its positive spin.

When it came to audience attention, quality outweighed quantity

Audience engagement used to be about trying to get as wide an audience as possible. But now brands want to go as deep as possible. This demands content that entices audiences with surgical-like precision, adding value to the conversation rather than intruding in a way that’s “off-brand.” Spotify and Amazon’s new initiatives prioritized this. 

Spotify, a beacon of auditory entertainment, announced they were expanding their digital video inventory, signaling a move to align with audience visual interests–a fan wants to listen to a new album, as well as watch a music video, behind-the-scenes footage, and an exclusive artist interview. And Amazon’s addition of three types of video ad formats–shoppable carousel ads, interactive pause ads, and brand trivia ads–attempt to hold a viewer’s attention at every moment of the viewing experience by promoting products and product-related factoids when the content is either paused or playing. For Spotify and Amazon, the changes work seamlessly with their business models, surprising and delighting users in ways that make sense.

Women’s sports became the real MVP

All bets continue to be on sports–though women are finally getting some spotlight. In an election year, brands can shy away from thorny issues and turn their attention to plain-old fun–particularly in women’s sports, as evidenced with several collaborations with WNBA. The appeal of Caitlin Clark is only the tip of the iceberg–women’s sports are attracting eyeballs and, by brands investing in them, they’re demonstrating their allegiance to equality and understanding of the broader zeitgeist.

Other highlights included Condé Nast announcing a content collaboration with F1 and ESPN, and Snap showcasing original content for the Paris Olympics and their partnerships with the NFL, NBA, and WNBA. Snap also debuted an in-app sports channel called Snap Sports Network that covers unconventional athletics. Dog surfing, anyone? 

Each Upfronts and NewFronts season brings a lot of buzz around flashy new presentations and offerings. While there is plenty to get excited about for advertisers looking for the right home for content, the “changes” each year remind us that some things are constant: to capitalize on content and consumers, brands must continue to be entertaining, interesting, and immersive.