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Sports TV Advertising — How To Adjust For Connected TVs Post-COVID

This post is part of our larger “CTV/OTT Sports Advertising Guide,” click here to learn more.

Live events and major league sports have long been a heated topic for strategists in the advertising realm. While it has been noted by many thought leaders that we are living in a transitional period before streaming services completely overtake at least cable, and potentially traditional broadcast (or at least becomes the overwhelming majority), the logistics of delivering sports in real time through digital streaming still give advertisers and major networks pause. This is most likely due to the massive amount of advertising revenue that comes from these broadcast events, often via antiquated upfront commitments, the impressions driven and the implications of change. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the cord-cutting movement, a world where sports are delivered almost exclusively through streaming may not be too far in the future. 

In fact, traditional TV has been in decline long before the pandemic. Even in sports dominated channels, ESPN+ has over 8 million subscribers (and growing rapidly) whereas linear ESPN has been losing customers for the greater part of the last decade. As we observe this greater shift towards streaming, there is an impetus for marketers and media buyers to get in front of the strategy and technique needed for tactfully positioned sports advertising campaigns specifically as it applies to CTV (Connected TVs), which is recognized as the premium device option in the OTT ecosystem.

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What are the best ways to adjust Sports TV advertising for CTVs?

Under the current circumstances, the mere execution of major sporting events is still up in the air when this article was written (September 2020 – 150 days+ in quarantine as a nation), with many games and seasons being cancelled. Furthermore, 2020 is an election year and a particularly delicate one at that, given the social climate. That said, there is no doubt that viewer behavior has changed and advertisers would be wise to adjust their campaign techniques. 

The following ideas should be kept in mind while you strategize for your next big sports advertising campaign on CTVs during these times: 

First, be mindful with your creative approach

Before we dive into the logistics of delivering your sports TV ad campaigns, the most important factor to keep in mind during this time is the message and the creative approach. As marketers, we are tasked with delivering a video that resonates with the brand’s audience which is of course a function of that audience’s environmental factors. Under these unprecedented times, it would be tone-deaf to approach sports advertising as if nothing is wrong. 

With your creative team, it is important to be aware of some of the unprecedented macro conditions at the moment:

  • Dramatic income changes during the economic shutdown. Individuals may have significantly less purchasing power due to furloughs, layoffs, salary cuts, and more. 
  • Lower risk tolerance in general. Given the uncertainty, consumer behavior may be less inclined to spend frivolously and opt for a more conservative, saving approach
  • Household dynamic shifts. As social distancing measures are enforced, individuals are spending more time in their homes than ever before. However, the household has doubled up as an office, a school, a daycare, etc. This will naturally impact viewing behavior as well.

To learn about some of these impacts in more detail, take a look at this COVID-19, Briefing Materials Report from McKinsey & Company.

During this time, there is a delicate balance between completely ignoring the situation at hand, and giving a “doom and gloom” sentiment by over emphasizing the dreariness of the pandemic. And while it can be expensive to completely revamp your creative team, it is possible to make subtle shifts that will pay dividends in brand positioning and subsequently ROI. Crafting and styling messages with empathy i.e. “we are in this together” will go a long way towards building up the brand’s image and resonance with consumers during this time.

Also, as we are about to explain, the targeting capabilities of CTV are exponentially better than traditional broadcast, so you do not have to create a one size fits all brand awareness ad. You can be hyper specific and deliver the creative ONLY to the CTVs of your exact audience.

Second, have a different take on content targeting

The 2020 sports seasons across the board have really struggled and have all but disappeared from mainstream media. However, that doesn’t mean that it is nonexistent and sports TV advertising should be neglected altogether. With many advertisers backing out of upfront commitments, broadcasters are actually embracing in-game ad inventory available on streaming platforms for the MLB, NFL, and NCAA to make up for lost revenue. This offers a unique opportunity for marketers to leverage the advanced targeting capabilities of CTV advertising. 

When it comes to content targeting through CTV, a large perk for advertisers is the ability to go beyond the typical demographic statistical profiles and reach audiences with messages that are tailored to them as individuals, based on their content viewing history. And with COVID-19, the focus has become less about selecting the right venue, but steering clear of the wrong venues. This might mean taking time to ensure that your sports advertising campaign is not run in conjunction to the nightly news or anything politics related, for example. 

Unlike traditional broadcast where marketers were limited to buying media according to a general audience, content targeting for your next sports advertising campaign can take advantage of Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) Targeting

  • Targeting audiences based on whether they are watching a particular program or special feature i.e. Wimbledon, the Masters, Super Bowl, etc.Target audiences based on their viewing history and habits as well, which allows for advertisers to selectively deliver ad campaigns only to individuals that are still tuning into sports programs
  • The TLDR; perhaps you don’t need to advertise during the exact event you want to be associated with (because it might be cost prohibitive) but that doesn’t mean you can’t access that event’s exact audience on different devices or at another time.

Given COVID-19 and the changing consumer behaviors, the capability of CTV’s hyper targeting and not being limited strictly to the window of time during the event itself (as you had to on broadcast) are key advantages with sports advertising on CTV over traditional broadcast.

Finally, make sure to refine audience targeting even further

The CTV is the largest device in the household and generally in a shared common space such as the living room. This is a key detail to note as we mentioned earlier that household dynamics are shifting with the number of individuals who are home at the same time… all the time. Kids are home from school, partners are working from home, others are social distancing without leaving the household–if multiple people are in the common area at the same time, it is not likely that everyone present wants to watch the same thing. 

Strategus has always advocated for the best possible customer experience by delivering content to CTVs for its larger viewport, and limiting the amount of content delivered to smaller screens on mobile phones and tablets. Under the new normal, we recognize that there is a significantly higher volume of streaming content happening on personal devices than previously. With increased viewership on multi-device streaming, marketers will need to further refine audience targeting, within one household. Take for example:

  • Leveraging time-of-day targeting to serve ads on the living room CTV directed at the kids during after school hours and directed at the parents after dinner 
  • Leveraging technographic targeting to deliver the ads to gamer college student directly to the laptop
  • And any other blend of OTT/CTV hyper-targeting capabilities, it’s best to be as specific as possible.

To optimize the performance of your sports advertising campaign, relevance is key. Given the current economic downturn, individuals are less frivolous with their purchasing power. To avoid creating a negative brand association by delivering content to the wrong audience or too many times, you can hyper-target to ensure the message is being seen by the correct individual at the correct time. 

The Bottom Line

The big takeaways for adjusting your sports campaigns to CTVs and the current times are first and foremost to be sensitive with your creative, but also note that the targeting capabilities of CTV advertising mean you don’t have to take a broad creative approach, you can be very specific with your messaging. Also, it’s good to keep in mind that you are not limited to advertising only during the event itself or on the CTV (if it’s cost-prohibitive for instance). You can target their CTV’s after the event or even on their other devices during that event (ask us how). 

If you have any questions about any of the practices we outlined above or how to execute a perfectly targeted advertising campaign on CTV please take a look at our Comprehensive Connected TV Advertising Guide or feel free to reach out and talk with one of our OTT experts

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