It came up on every panel at the NeuLion Sports Media Technology Conference in Manhattan Beach, California last week, despite the fact that the conference, and the leadership in the industry, is all abuzz about new ways to engage, the mobile space, on-demand audio, social engagement and streaming.
Yet there it was, as old school as you get. Ratings. Why are numbers down, especially for the NFL, for broadcast? Where are people going, what are they doing? National Anthem controversy with the NFL? Lack of compelling stories? Too many choices? eSports? Comiccon? Trump? Global warming? Everyone is guessing, yet when looking to the future, it is decidedly important that at the same time there is hand wringing about traditional measurement, the choir is singing about where engagement is going and they couldn’t be more excited. They just don’t know how it makes money yet.
In many ways the “ratings” rant sounded a lot like the famous “practice” rant now Hall of Famer Allen Iverson had in his Sixers days when asked about why he was always late. We can just see Iverson going on about “ratings” when in reality; the audience is migrating to a wider form of measurement somewhere down the road. When and where, is the question.
The biggest reasons for the fretting are twofold. The measurement of total audience is not there yet, and because it is not there yet, the traditional sellers of media…ad agencies and sales teams used to an older model and very risk averse…cannot figure out a way to properly package and make that total audience appealing. Is it video? Product placement? Live tracking product engagement where consumers click and buy with their mobile device? How about virtual ads? And who owns what space and who can sell it? Is the market too segmented? All are the things keeping sellers up at night, and all of those things are what are keeping the disruptive audience very excited about the future.
Earlier in the year we looked at the way NBC has started to measure, and it is worth looking at again after the Olympics and as we get into the NFL season a bit deeper. It is a tool they call TAMI- Total Audience Measurement Indicator. TAMI, which was developed at NBC by Alan Wurtzel, the President of Research and Media Development for NBC Universal gives the network a look at Comscore, Nielsen, and Social impact as a best way to gauge an overall audience; the best way to ensure both the digital and the traditional impact a property has. It is not dissimilar from the way Nielsen is trying to move with measurement, or the way MVP Index, and to a deeper extent, San Diego-based HookIT is looking to help measure impact across all platforms and devices.
Chris Wagner, executive vice president for NeuLion, noted last week that they have seen the impact Twitter and social has on driving interest, which can lead to measurement down the line “We power the NFL Game Pass to follow your team on any device,” he said in Manhattan Beach least week. “We see the Twitter activity driving more awareness that we can use to drive more subscriptions to the Game Pass.”
So where do the dollars go next? NBC’s Rick Cordella had this to add, per Sports Business Daily. “You can make more money, quite frankly, on digital than on TV. You can do pre-roll that doesn’t exist on TV, skins around the content with Visa. We take a two-minute pod and run a branded content piece — Verizon fantasy players of the day — there. People are willing to pay for really good content if they are passionate about one sport they feel is underserved. They are affluent, buying $1,000 bicycles.“
The issue is that is all very early in the game for what will become next for fully accepted global measurement, and how it will be monetized, and we are dealing with a mature salesforce looking to hit big numbers the old fashioned way for the biggest of events. There is no industry standard yet, so it takes creativity, storytelling and the targeting of the right audiences with the right brands to be effective. It is happening more and more with the authentic audience that a UFC or eSports is drawing, but translating that to the millions, if not billions, needed to produce and run a traditional broadcast TV model is daunting.
If you are selling today and the business of accepted measurement is what you are being measured by, the cause for concern is genuine for sure. There is certainly no lack of buzz or engagement by consumers for the mainstream sports and the brands associated with them, (and even for niche audiences who have formed authentic and growing global communities) and how we engage continues to change. How that engagement will be effectively and consistently measured and monetized is the challenge in what is probably the most interesting, and most volatile time for a multi-billion dollar global business that needs to adapt in real time to an audience that is both more engaged and time challenged than ever before.
The audience is somewhere. Where it is at all times is the billion dollar question, and one which is worth following both now and into the future, both near, and far.