Sports and the Evolution of TV Advertising

By Patrick Hanavan  | 

An analysis of the 2017 upfront pitches for the four major broadcast networks reveals two important facts about consumers’ TV viewing habits. First, traditional linear TV audience numbers continue to decline as more viewers move their screen time to new devices and methods of watching. In addition, live sports broadcasts continue to be the “crown jewel” of the networks’ program line-ups, a fact that companies like FOX were eager to highlight in their pitch to advertisers during this year’s upfront events. Will live sports be able to sustain TV ad spending in the long term? Here are some ways this last bastion of TV investment may evolve in the near future:

Live sports are no longer just about TV
The success of TV and sports relies on its “live” element: viewers tune in to enjoy sports’ in-the-moment excitement, and the only screen where that was possible was television. But increasingly, more networks and advertisers are looking to expand the screens where they can reach sports viewers. ESPN, for example, is increasingly pitching its advertisers on opportunities to reach consumers with live digital event broadcasts on mobile and digital screens.

TV broadcasters will need to offer advertisers better targeting and insights
There’s no question that live sports are one of the best opportunities for advertisers to reach a mass audience, and more specifically, a mass male-leaning audience, all in one place. But having the biggest reach may no longer be enough. Following the example of the digital ad world, which can offer marketers precision targeting of key audience segments, more TV networks are looking to update their live sports targeting and insights for advertisers. NBC’s executives, for example, are using audience insights data from their hit show “This Is Us” to prove that the show is a hit with sports-loving men.

New sports are gaining in importance as way to reach millennials
While live sports are a big draw for many age segments of consumers, they haven’t been nearly as popular with the coveted millennial demographic. As broadcasters and advertisers look for new ways to reach this increasingly important consumer cohort, many networks are investing in new types of sports programming to attract their attention. FOX, for example, is doubling down on its TV and digital broadcast plans for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which saw heavy interest among the country’s younger consumer audience.

Live sports are at the center of this year’s TV upfront pitch to advertisers. But despite the continued appeal of live sports for the industry, there’s no guarantee they will be able to retain their hold in the future. As a number of changes in consumer viewing habits, and broadcasters’ ad-related sports offerings seem to indicate, the world of sports advertising is not immune from the larger shifts shaping the future of TV and video.

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