Comcast Advertising: Making the Most of Live TV Advertising in a Streaming World | ANA

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Making the Most of Live TV Advertising in a Streaming World

Live events present advertisers with a rare opportunity — mass reach at a shared point in time

Fans gather prior to the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft at Campus Martius Park and Hart Plaza on April 25, 2024 in Detroit, Mich. According to the NFL, round one of the three-day televised event saw 34.3 million viewers, the highest viewership since 2021. As on-demand programming changes the nature of TV, live events offer marketers the chance to reach a mass audience at a shared point in time. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Live TV is having a moment.

According to Forbes, 96 of the top 100 TV programs by viewership in 2023 were live football games (NFL and college). In 2024, Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers was not only the most-watched NFL championship game in history but the most-watched television show ever, CNBC reports. And advertisers are now gearing up for what promises to be a history-making Olympic Games in Paris.

There's a reason advertisers are flocking to live events: At a time when so much content is consumed asynchronously, live events offer advertisers a rare chance to reach engaged consumers at scale, often in groups, during a particular moment in time.

But some advertisers are hesitant to put their money toward these major cultural moments, fearing high costs and a "no fail" environment.

Today, as more events move to streaming and as programmatic adoption increases, there is opportunity for advertisers of all sizes to make their message heard during live events, with technology in place to guard against brand safety and viewer experience issues.

Here's what all advertisers should know.

Live Events Offer Massive Opportunities for Advertisers

Across sports, awards shows, and even daily live programming such as news and talk shows, live content draws massive audiences. And those audiences show no signs of dwindling, especially around major events. For example, CNBC reports that Super Bowl LVIII drew in an estimated 123 million viewers; and a separate report in Forbes notes that the 2024 NCAA Division One Women's Basketball Tournament set viewing records across all six rounds.

However, it's not just the large number of viewers that makes live programming so valuable. Real-time events like sports are only live once, making them uniquely engaging and communal. For example, live events generate 22 percent longer tune-in than nonlive telecasts, according to data compiled in 2023 by Comscore TV. And according to 2014 data from TVision, live events are 17 percent more likely to be viewed by multiple people together.

Advertisers should lean into these advantages — and about half of them already are. Fifty-six percent say they buy live events for the "large, simultaneous audiences" they deliver, and 53 percent name high engagement as a positive factor, according to an April 2024 report by Advertiser Perceptions commissioned by FreeWheel.

Streaming Opens the Door to More Advertisers

The opportunity to engage with large audiences continues to expand as live events increasingly move to streaming platforms. Publishers now commonly stream games in addition to showing them on linear channels, as illustrated by the 2024 NBA playoffs, much of which is available on Max. And in some cases, streaming is the only way to watch: Amazon Prime has begun exclusively airing Thursday Night Football games, and when NBC recently ran a 2024 AFC Wild Card Game on its streaming platform Peacock, the game became the most-streamed live event in U.S. history.

Advertisers, programmers, and viewers stand to benefit from live events' shift to streaming. Advertisers get more ways to access live programming at a variety of budget levels as well as greater efficiency and process automation. Programmers are able to show multiple events simultaneously across platforms while reaching a broader audience and opening up more inventory for advertisers. And viewers get additional means to access their preferred content as well as more relevant ads.

Advertisers who move early to embrace the shift of live events to streaming — and programmatic in particular — will gain an edge that simply wasn't possible with traditional TV sporting events.

Programmatic Compounds the Live Event Opportunity

In addition to the shift to streaming, advertisers can increasingly buy live-event inventory programmatically. This is another boon to advertisers, who have historically had to access live-event inventory through traditional, manual direct sales or by simply passing broadcast commercials through to streaming.

Compared to traditional methods, automatically buying and selling ads in real time via programmatic unlocks more inventory, increases efficiency, and delivers more comprehensive measurement — allowing advertisers to determine the value of their investment. It also saves both buyers and sellers time while enabling price optimization and enhanced ad customization.

Be Open, and Be Prepared

Some advertisers may have concerns about taking the programmatic plunge, but those concerns can be addressed and often eliminated with advanced planning and great technology. For example:

  • Ensuring a great viewer experience. Most live events include natural pauses for ad breaks, and frequency-capping tools can help control repeated ads even in a live environment.
  • Managing budgets. Advertising during major sporting events isn't possible for all advertisers, but by factoring into the price tag historical viewing, audience engagement, and coviewing, marketers can determine the true value — also known as the effective CPM — of their buy.
  • Reaching the right audience. Marketers can rely on deterministic identity solutions to ensure their ads reach the right audiences and that ad selection tools adapt to audience spikes.

By approving creative before an event happens, collaborating with media and tech partners to gauge likely viewership, and building clear, flexible campaign guidelines, advertisers can better ensure a smooth delivery — with accurate digital metrics to determine their campaign's success.

Live Events Are Here to Stay

With the shift from traditional TV to streaming, live events aren't going anywhere. If anything, as the media ecosystem continues to fragment, they will continue to grow in importance.

In today's programmatic world, advertisers can't afford to move slowly. Those who proactively explore new solutions will get the maximum value out of live events, secure the most premium inventory, and deliver a better experience to their audiences.

FreeWheel is part of Comcast Advertising, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.

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Mark McKee

Mark McKee is the general manager of FreeWheel, a Comcast company and global technology platform that is powering the future of the television marketplace. Under his leadership, FreeWheel is spearheading the quest to make the TV industry more data-fueled, automated, and beneficial to both the buy and sell sides. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn.

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