Digital Channels Make Their Move On Sports, The Last Broadcast Stronghold

olympicsimgAlthough the Rio Olympics broke its own record for reserved ad dollars set during the London Games in 2012, broadcast is losing its iron grip on live sports media.

Ratings for NBC across a portfolio of Comcast-owned properties (like MSNBC, CNBC, USA Network, Golf Channel, Telemundo and the NBC smart-TV app channel) were down compared to the 2012 Olympics, despite the larger buffet of viewing options, according to a release Monday from NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus.

While NBC and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) strictly control video broadcasting, every reporter or athlete has in their pocket the means to record, produce and broadcast video.

Twitter worked with the IOC to zap unlicensed GIFs and videos uploaded by users, but there’s no stopping Gatorade (owned by Pepsi, archrival to Coke, which spent $200 million to be an official Olympic sponsor) from promoting video around Usain Bolt during his races.

NBC and the IOC have as tight a hold as ever on broadcast of the actual live events, but it used to be that only licensed video would come out of Olympics coverage, whereas now athletes can stream their own shots on social media and publishers are actively assembling unofficial-but-still-Olympic content through their own editorial efforts and over social media.

USA Today had more than 30 reporters and editors on the ground, many exclusively working on video packages and Snapchat content. Traffic to USA Today’s sports sections more than doubled during the Olympics, with CPM rate increases of 24%.

“In particular video fueled our growth. Total video views grew by 820% since the last Olympics,” said Michael Kuntz, USA Today’s senior VP of digital revenue.

Bleacher Report’s Olympic content also emphasized video, said Rich Calacci, senior VP of sales at Turner, Bleacher Report’s parent company. “We don’t have the rights like NBC, but that’s OK, because we’ve put a lot of time and energy into what we call our social moments team.”

It’s often the stories NBC doesn’t own that resonate the most, like athletes’ daily meals, stories from inside the athletes village or US swimmer Ryan Lochte running into trouble with Brazilian authorities.

While the most popular Olympic contests like sprinting or swimming finish in seconds, “you get all these amazing stories and analysis that goes around it,” said Matthew Watson, executive chairman for the sports video content- and ad-delivery service SendtoNews. “A big part of our push was to flush out and extend that digitally.”

Scripps set up programmatic marketplaces for selling Olympic-specific content with six or seven trading desk, including one managed by Rubicon Project, said Jason Tate, the media company’s digital revenue manager. Official Olympic brand partners used the private markets to extend the reach of their sponsorships, and nonsponsors used it to pick up an Olympic sheen without the upfront costs, he said.

Kuntz said these kind of pop-up marketplaces around flagship live events like the Super Bowl and the World Cup will be a plank of the company’s digital revenue plans moving forward.

Because of the audience migration to digital channels, sports marketers are also embracing digital metrics.

Sponsorships used to be driven by, say, CMOs who watched a lot of golf or basketball and thus chose the PGA or NBA, said Stephen Master, Nielsen’s senior VP of sports. But more and more “we’re seeing an emphasis on analytical rigor that tracks with digital,” he said.

There will be more marketing dollars going into the sports category, said Masters, but fractured like a system of small streams broken out of a single, strong river.

It’s great for athletes – Nielsen counts some of the top sports talent agencies as customers because it can provide data demonstrating sponsorship value – and it’s great for the digital media ecosystem, from social platforms to local newspapers, which are almost guaranteed to see traffic and inventory rates shoot up.

But it’s brutally difficult for broadcasters like NBC, which aside from the $12 billion TV rights deal is responsible for producing the Olympics, a task Lazarus said required more than 2,000 people in Rio, more than 1,000 people at NBC headquarters in Stamford, Conn., and additional production teams in Florida.


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