Re-Thinking Sports In The Digital TV Era

Ready or not, we are in the Digital Television era. The media have largely focused on the impact on consumers, but what does it mean for marketers? Broadcasters, have, in most cases, not even decided what to do with the extra capacity they will be gaining. But looking through the current fog, there will be new opportunities for marketers, and sports is poised to have a major role if marketers can adapt the way they think about television.

First, some history:

When sports arrived on the television landscape, commercial time was rarely integrated into the action. With the advent of cable, opportunities to move beyond the commercial spot model were realized: graphics, in-vision signage and audio and visual exposure throughout the broadcasts.

Now comes the dawn of the digital age in television with multicast capabilities. Sports will be a target for broadcasters looking to fill out multicast lineups because of its ability to capture audiences. Many affiliates have already committed to adding a range of sports programming, including "Olympic" and top foreign sports.

How can savvy marketers take advantage of these developments? In order to maximize the opportunity in the world of Digital Television, marketers must rethink their current approach:

1. Re-think Size

Television has always been about the mass audience - until now. Digital Television creates an interesting hybrid of TV and Internet, and there are many lessons that television sports marketers should take from their Internet brethren. One is the idea of "the long tail" - i.e. that you can reach just as large and valuable an audience by reaching dozens/hundreds of small audiences for the same price as one large audience. The difference now is that audience model paired with the media consumption model of television.

A good example of an audience that Digital Television will enable marketers to reach more effectively is "Internationalists;" i.e. people who watch international sports. This upper-income, educated, traveling demographic has been difficult to reach via network and cable TV. Digital Television changes the game. In addition, this can really change how marketers define the "sports audience."

Smart marketers I've spoken with are excited about new strategies that use about multiple campaigns - or multiple variations on a "core" campaign that focus on even tighter, more "micro" targets. The good news is that, with Digital Television, programmers will be serving more niches than ever.

2. Re-think Brand Association

Many marketers want brand association with sports, but much of that opportunity is locked up by a few big brands; for example "the official car of the NBA." This is replicated at the team level. In addition, TV advertising on the big four --NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL - is controlled by established networks with established pricing models. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of other options.

With Digital Television, that market opportunity opens wide again. A smart marketer can more easily afford to virtually "own" a secondary sport (e.g., lacrosse), or a secondary team or league of a major sport (e.g., A-league baseball). Because - initially - there will be far less competition for attention, marketers can get much greater value for their dollars.

3. Re-think Creativity

While the two ideas above are in many ways extensions of what sports marketers first saw with cable television, the enhanced ability to be creative is really unique to the Digital Television era. As I mentioned, programmers are suddenly faced with four times the amount of programming (and ad time) they need to fill - profitably.

I think there is an excellent chance for marketers to actually create new sports marketing in partnership with programmers. In this environment all players will need to be more open than ever to collaboration and ideas from the other side of the table. This doesn't mean marketers can control programming, but their ability to help shape programming from the outset is site to increase - particularly with newer broadcasters looking to provide "value."

These are just a few ideas for sports marketers to explore as opportunities evolve. The point is that the multicast capabilities of Digital Television will transform the sports television landscape and marketers who recognize that - instead of taking the same old approach - will have a significant jump on the competition.

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2 comments about "Re-Thinking Sports In The Digital TV Era ".
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  1. Shaun Pope from XOS Digital, June 16, 2009 at 5:50 p.m.

    Great points, Wayne. Dead on! Additionally, new Internet TV platform providers like Endavo can provide the engine necessary to power online channels with complete branding and ad management control. Only a few years back, this was too expensive for smaller sports teams/leagues, but it's now within reach for associations of all sizes.

  2. Jim Courtright from Big Thinking By The Hour, June 16, 2009 at 7:48 p.m.

    Here's another area where sports will be reinvented in the digital age: Look for more and more sports franchises, from college to pro, to handle their own broadcasting over the Internet.

    Who needs CBS, NBC, or ABC when they no longer are the sole distribution technology for sports programming? What's to stop a smart college like USC from broadcasting all their own sports events over the Internet and cutting the traditional broadcasters out of the equation? That way, USC keeps all the ad revenue. They just need to hire a production staff and a sales force. Heck just hire them from the broadcaster's staff.

    I wouldn't want to be a sports broadcasting network in the next decade, as all of their value has been supplanted by the Internet.

    Jim Courtright
    Big Thinking By The Hour,Inc.

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