Super Bowl Sunday meets the streaming wars - Thompson

Andrew Thompson

Chips and dip. Cold beer. Lip synching half-time acts. Tom Brady. Some things about Super Bowl Sunday never seem to change. But as the Super Bowl collides with the streaming wars, how people watch the big game is anything but static.

Keeping a close eye on consumer behavior this year will offer key insights into how viewers watch America’s biggest broadcast and other live sports events in our multi-platform future.

Just a few years ago, live events were the exclusive domain of cable providers. As TV deals for events like March Madness, the Masters Tournament or the NBA playoffs expired, bidding wars would ensue, and the winners could sit comfortably on their prize for the next few years, enjoying predictably robust cable viewership and advertising revenue.

Times have changed. The popularity of sports is not declining. Live sports broadcast rights continue to be the most reliable money makers for cable companies. But that’s changing along with the ways that fans follow their teams and watch games.

Sports via streaming

Live streaming of the Super Bowl increased 19% in 2019. Digital viewership of live sports was expected to rise 14% in 2020, meaning almost one in four live sports viewers in the U.S. will tune into the game digitally. Coupled with almost 40% of viewers tuning into social media live streams for some of their sports viewing, there’s good reason to expect that number will continue its upward trend.

Whether video distributors can cultivate these varied audiences and optimize viewership across platforms will be a key factor to their future success.

Take ESPN as an example. The “world-wide leader in sports” had 83 million cable TV subscribers in 2019, a decrease of more than 16 million since 2013. But ESPN+ — part of Disney’s OTT streaming bundle — recently noted that it nearly tripled its number of subscribers in the past year to 10.3 million. Every major television network is playing a similar balancing act, working to maintain its traditional linear audience while meeting new digital audiences where they are.

RELATED: Disney+ is the most downloaded VOD app in U.S.

CBS, which will be broadcasting this year’s Super Bowl, will be looking to leverage its enormous live TV audience to attract subscribers to the CBS Sports app and CBS All Access, a video on-demand platform that will soon be rebranded as Paramount+. Jeff Gerttula, the head of CBS Sports, described the Super Bowl as “an unparalleled acquisition event.”

To garner viewers, the CBS Sports app will be streaming the game for free on smart TV platforms like Vizio and LG. Advertisers have opportunities to submit alternate spots for streaming audiences, too. And other OTTs like SlingTV, FuboTV, Hulu Live, YouTube TV and AT&T Now, will also be streaming the Super Bowl and offering promotions to sign up new subscribers.

Media industry executives will be watching audience trends closely. The Super Bowl’s streaming audience this year will certainly outpace 2019, when 2.6 million people streamed the game. But by how much? Will sports-focused upstarts like FuboTV increase market share with their planned football-centric, targeted promotions? Can streaming services offer advertisers more value than cable TV? Will removing the requirement of having a pay-TV subscription increase viewership?

Super Bowl ads

One key differentiator for OTT services is access to viewer data and the capacity to personalize ads. During an event known as much for its television ads as the game, the Super Bowl is the perfect venue to demonstrate what a modern television ad campaign can look like.

Where the traditional model for Super Bowl advertising is crafting a commercial with the broadest possible appeal (think Coca-Cola polar bears and Budweiser frogs), streaming platforms create an opportunity for ads targeted at specific market and behavioral segments. That multi-million-dollar Super Bowl spend can be divided up into multiple subscriber or buyer personas rather than a one-size-fits-all spend.

OTTs should bring the same approach to promoting their own services during major live events. When they know significant shares of all segments will likely tune in, OTTs should be ready with personalized promotions, ads, and content recommendations to make sure free trials turn into revenue and longtime subscribers stay sticky.

Media and entertainment companies’ success in the coming years will depend on how quickly organizations can digest, analyze, and act on their data in real time. Rather than reviewing monthly or quarterly reports, companies will watch real-time data — with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence — to make decisions. They might, for example, adjust subscription pricing in the second half of the Super Bowl based on how promotions performed among certain segments of their audiences in the first half or deliver a more personalized ad. That’s a decision based on certain behavioral data sets on a viewer which yields a higher CPM and increases overall ad revenues.

Finding what works

As they become major drivers of new audiences to streaming platforms, live events are also going to change how content creators and distributors negotiate. And as live events and their audience are split up across various platforms, companies will have to figure out how to monitor and monetize these different segments.

It’s important to realize there is no right answer. All platforms will want to increase their subscription conversion rates from the volume of free trials they receive to watch the Super Bowl. We’ll have to wait and see how each of these platforms go about doing that, but smart media and entertainment executives know they must act quickly. The transition to digital platforms will continue to rise and advertisers and audiences will expect ever-more personalized offerings. Data can provide the needed insight to predict what strategy will be most effective.

Media companies have a strong appetite for dashboards and reporting of data that provide a single source of insight from which they can make business decisions. To get to that point, companies need systems that can ingest data from multiple in-house, third-party distributor and third-party measurement and analytic sources that include both historical and live data. Being able to analyze this data — and being prepared to turn insight into targeted action — is how companies will create growth in 2021 and beyond.

You could say it’s the difference between a team like the Jets…and any other NFL team.

Andrew Thompson is senior vice president of sales and business development at Symphony MediaAI. Andrew has more than 15 years of senior sales experience, focused on scaling SaaS-based B2B businesses. He joined Symphony MediaAI in March of 2020 and is responsible for the execution of the company’s global sales strategy. Prior to Symphony MediaAI, he served as senior director of sales at Limelight Networks where he led new business strategy and field operations for Limelight’s Americas group. Andrew earned his bachelors degree in business administration from Arizona State University. He can be reached at [email protected].

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceVideo staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceVideo.