Must-See Online Programming?

As is widely known in this era of time-shifted TV, there are few slots in the TV schedule that still demand premium pricing. The ones that do can be counted on one hand – the Super Bowl, Oscars, NBA Finals, and maybe a couple of others. The immediacy and real-time effect, combined with social media and news alerts, command that you watch live or risk spoilers through posts, tweets, and alerts. This is a boon for both the networks and the advertisers, ensuring the audience will be tuned in to your message on that date and time.

At the NewFronts this year, there was talk of several networks mirroring their broadcast (er, cable) schedules with their online programming. TNT, TBS, and NBC are examples of those at the forefront of this evolution, with much of their premier programming – including the Olympics – scheduled to air cross-platform. ESPN, through and the WatchESPN app, has been doing this for a while where league contracts permit. While full online video programming is still in its infancy, especially compared to the more “established” TV platform, it is interesting to speculate what will be the must-see and must-view advertising hits. Like TV, will it be events (sporting or entertainment) where real-time viewing is the necessity, lest the outcome be scooped by news alerts or social media? It seems that the opportunity is ripe, with major events like March Madness, NBA Playoffs, golf’s majors (Masters, U.S. Open, etc.), and Wimbledon all now live streaming.

While some have already mastered online monetization – March Madness and the Masters are probably the best examples – this weekend proved that the web still has a long way to go. The official Wimbledon site was prominently sponsored by IBM, while ESPN’s live stream of the Wimbledon men’s final was curiously missing any in-match advertising. The men’s final is always the most watched match, but when watching the live stream via Comcast Xfinity, for example, the commercial breaks featured still images and no audio. This invited viewers to tune out until live action resumed. And while this may have served to enhance the tea and crumpets setting of “Breakfast at Wimbledon,” from a marketer’s perspective it seems like a vast underutilization of a highly targeted, valuable audience.

The question is, what is the potential – and value – of “must-view” online content? And what exactly will the content be? March Madness has been at the forefront of porting must-see to must-view. And, in the process, it has demonstrated the value that this once “ancillary” content can drive. This online revenue was “found revenue” – incremental to what the traditional platform delivers. Consider this: revenue from March Madness on-demand grew from $4 million in 2006, its first year online, to about $40 million in 2010 to $60 million in 2012 to now becoming an integral and must-have component of a $1 billion advertising business in 2013 (no longer broken out separately but a requisite part of any advertiser package).

Why are advertisers paying so much to be a part of March Madness – or other live-streamed premier sporting events? Because they remain “appointment viewing,” now they are just appearing on a new screen. And they represent the broader opportunity of more appointment viewing coming online. Will all of this viewing be sports-based and mirror what is offered on TV? Or will there be a content evolution (or is that a revolution?) with new types of socially-sourced programming available that we have not yet even contemplated? What will make viewers tune in now and not want to miss the latest? What will engage them in real time and render Twitter and news updates after the fact obsolete? These will become the new must-have digital content platforms for advertisers.

As online video continues to mature – and with it the development of more quality programming and more access to it – it creates a whole new consideration set of high-profile, must-see programming. And this is the type of programming that offers advertisers the high-quality content opportunities they crave. As this programming comes online, so come the advertising dollars. This weekend’s Wimbledon men’s final, while a missed opportunity in the short term, really just demonstrates the enormous untapped opportunity to come over the longer term.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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