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The Current

News for the modern marketer

Edition 4

Streaming Audience for Big Game Expected to Double

Friday, February 5, 2021

The buzz is building for this Sunday’s Big Game, with two of the biggest stars in the NFL going head-to-head. Six-time champion quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face off against the young superstar Patrick Mahomes and the defending champs, Kansas City Chiefs. It’ll be one for the history books as the 43-year-old Brady makes his tenth Super Bowl appearance, in pursuit of his seventh win.

But these aren’t the only metrics that will make this a milestone event. For a start, it’s the first Covid-era final, which means attendance at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium will be limited to 25,000 fans (plus 30,000 cutouts), with strict public health protocols in place. As ever, most of the audience will be watching on television — some of them admittedly just for the ads and the half-time show.

But here’s the big change: This year we estimate that a record number of viewers will be watching the game via CTV and streaming. According to a YouGov omnibus study, which surveyed a US demographic of those intending to watch the game, 20 percent said they would watch via streaming, and not linear. Comparing that data with last year’s figures, we estimate the streaming audience to more than double, easily eclipsing last year’s numbers. Even more interesting for advertisers, almost 35 percent of millennials will watch via a streaming platform, according to the same research.

CBS is broadcasting this year’s game, which will also stream across its digital properties such as CBS All Access,, and through smart TVs via the CBS Sports app. Viewers who’ve cut the cord can also watch the game on streaming platforms like Hulu, Fubo TV, and the Yahoo Sports app, for example.

For advertisers, however, this shift toward CTV and streaming platforms is momentous.

“With more and more users watching the big events on CTV or devices, this creates an entire new bucket of inventory that did not exist 5-10 years ago,” Jordan Fox, founder and president of MMP Digital, told The Current. For years, the Super Bowl has been the biggest stage for advertisers seeking to raise brand awareness through brilliantly conceived ad campaigns, the grand narrative that reaches millions of households during one epic evening. That’s changing. Brands will start to shift advertising dollars to CTV and OTT/streaming platforms, which “will ultimately create a much higher ROI for the brand if done well,” adds Fox.

From a creative perspective, it’s an opportunity that can help agencies and brands shift toward audience-first strategies. "We’re breaking big brand stories into chapters that align with different audience motivations — a ‘fragmented audience’ is an audience we can target with a more relevant story chapter. And we’re going to orchestrate content sequencing across channels based on individual’s online behaviors," David Sonderman, Chief Creative Officer at The Shipyard, tells The Current.

The Super Bowl has long been a tent-pole event for the biggest brands in the world, but this year we’re seeing some major brands – Budweiser, Coke – who have opted to forgo in-game ads on the big day. The parent companies say they’re reallocating the millions they would spend on the ads toward Covid-19 relief as the pandemic continues to impact lives. While the absence of these heavy hitters has left room for newcomers at the table — Door Dash, Chipotle, Huggies — it may be indicative of a bigger shift in spending priorities for major brands. After all, the major network broadcast, and the massive investment it entails, is no longer the only way to reach the big game audience — especially if you’re only interested in a relevant subset of that audience.

Assessing the big picture, Sean MacPhedran of SCS Digital Strategy, sees this moment as pivotal. “Seismic change, with some tsunami thrown in, is definitely an accurate term for this delta in spending, and as consumers keep cutting the cord, shifting from linear TV to OTT and online video, we'll likely see much of that change is here to stay.”

Just briefly —

Our Chief People Officer, Vina Leite, shares her personal reflections on the meaning of Black History Month whose theme this year is family. She talks about the gift of perspective and strength afforded her thanks to her Cape Verdean and Portuguese heritage. Read it here.

A new view on TV: Nearly one in every two TV buyers say they plan to spend more on audience-first targeting this year, according to our Future of TV report. In other words, it might be time for brands to rethink areas such as creativity, measurement and business outcomes. Let's break it down for you.

Does drama improve CTV KPIs?

Philo is an interesting company, at least when you compare its origin story to similar vMVPD players such as Hulu and The company was first launched in 2009 by a pair of Harvard University alums. The duo eventually hooked up with Andrew McCollum, now Philo CEO. McCollum, of course, was one of the original founders of Facebook (he even lived with Zuck).

The company says it’s reimagining what TV is, and that apparently includes advertising. Through a partnership with The Trade Desk, Philo is now providing marketers new “content signals” that inform them what genre their CTV ads appeared next to. The new signals also include whether the content is being streamed live or watched on demand, as well as the content’s overall length.

Those may seem like incremental insights to the uninitiated, but these content signals allow advertisers to layer in more performance factors that then inform real-time measurement, and allow them to pivot campaigns to what’s working, with the right audience, at any given time, even if those factors change and evolve over time. And to that end, the new content signals are a breath of fresh air among media buyers.

Reed Barker, head of advertising at Philo, told The Current the company has seen increased demand for the content signals in 2021, adding that advertisers often first start looking at how their ads are performing against different genres. “Then they start adding in other signals like whether the content was streamed or aired live,” he says. “You can then start laying in information from your device graph or geography to get even more insights.”

One major advertiser, who asked not to be named, tested the new content signals in a campaign to capture more subscribers. The advertiser saw its conversion rate more than double when advertising on drama-related content instead of shows about comedy, true crime or reality. For this particular advertiser, drama was also found to have the lowest cost per action (CPA) at 40 percent below the indexed average.

For the full results, as well as what advertisers are saying about the new content signals, be sure to check out our full story here.

Around the dial

  • Google probe: Google’s efforts to do away with third-party cookies draws regulatory attention in the UK, reports Digiday.
  • Digital drama down under: This week, Microsoft came out in favor of legislation in Australia that would compel companies such as Facebook and Google to pay local news providers, in a case that’s being watched worldwide.
  • Going for gold: Advertisers are looking for flexibility given the uncertainty around the Tokyo Olympics, according to Business Insider.
  • Hitting pause: After the Capitol riots in the United States on January 6, brands hit pause on ad campaigns on social media. It could be the new normal, reports Ad Exchanger.
  • Risky business?: GroupM has teamed up with Unilever to launch a tool to help advertisers measure ethical risk levels, reports Ad Age.
  • Privacy prompt: Facebook strikes back at Apple’s privacy change, which would impact its ad-dependent business model, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • More than just FANG: Ad tech companies are flourishing among Wall Street investors, though some are doing better than others, reports Business Insider.
  • Listen to this: Podcasts saw 11 percent year-over-year growth in the fourth quarter, with ad spend expected to increase as much as 15 percent in the near future, AdWeek reports.

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