Football, TV & The Ad-Edit Ratio

A chill is finally in the air, and football's back on television. I love this time of year, especially now that NFL owners and players settled their differences ($$) and my New York Jets are once again the most entertaining team on the planet.

Football is a funny thing in the TV world. It drives ratings through the roof and audiences to sofas across the country for hours at a stretch. It's a powerful mix, and one that brings out the best advertisers have to offer.

And yet, here's the kicker, so to speak: There's actually not much football action to watch during a football game. In the three-plus hours it takes to broadcast a supposedly 60-minute football game, do you know how much time the teams actually spend playing the sport? Not quite 11 minutes!   

Don't believe me? Check out this breakdown of a three-hour football broadcast, from a Wall Street Journal article that ran last year (commercial time is excluded):



·     Filler Shots of Players, Coaches, & Wives: 67 minutes

·     Instant Replays: 17 minutes

·     Actual Game Play: 11 minutes

Having spent time in the publishing world, I can't help but consider how the ever-important ad/edit ratio comes into play here. (For purposes of this blog, we'll call gameplay the "edit.")  

Factoring in the typical hour of ads that run during a football game, you see that the filler-to-edit ratio is about the same as the ad-to-edit ratio: about 6-to-1. In other words, if the edit (that is, the "action") is what you're tuning in for, then you are getting six times as much advertising as you are action. (Hour-long TV programs reverse this ratio, with 15 minutes of commercials to 45 minutes of programming, for a 3-to-1 edit-to-ad ratio.) 

And yet football fans continue to tune in, as I said, for hours at a stretch. Why?  Well, did you turn off the Jets-Cowboys game in the fourth quarter when the Jets were down 24-10 and won with a last-minute field goal last week?  (This week's Jets rout of the Jags did not produce any such excitement.) 

Still, networks face a distinct challenge when they air football games. It's up to them to decide how to fill, in the most compelling way possible, the time between periods of active gameplay. The type and amount of content they broadcast varies from network to network -- ESPN favors instant replays, while on NBC you'll see more of the sideline action -- but it's also the contextual relevance of the ads that keep viewers tuned in.  

Sound familiar?  

After all, a truly excellent ad during a football game -- whether it's a funny beer spot or an engaging car commercial -- can sometimes seem as much a part of the game as the cheerleaders. Just the "filler content" needs to be contextual to keep viewers, so do the ads.  

Running contextual ads on television brings its own set of challenges, but two factors have been shown to influence the effectiveness of advertising: viewer engagement and "content congruence" (aka contextual relevance). Turner Networks has understood this for years.  

But making ads contextually relevant can be challenging for the networks that broadcast football games. We know that football fans are extremely engaged in the programming they watch. This is reflected in the ratings of football broadcasts and in the cost to advertise during those broadcasts ($900,000 for a 60-second national spot on one of the games the Journal analyzed). 

It's up to advertisers to bring the relevant, topnotch creative that will seal the deal with viewers, and keep them from flipping the channel. And it's up to us, the technology providers and data folks, to tell them what they need to know about their audiences -- for example, actual consumer purchase behavior -- to make their ads relevant. Armed with our data -- the fact, for instance, that in the week of October 25, 2010, the energy drinks, men's razors, and Honda over-indexed in NFL games -- brands like Honda, Red Bull, and Gillette can tell they have a vested interest in placing ads during football games. By contrast, Major League Baseball broadcasts score high for BMW and Toyota, while NBA games are a slam dunk for carbonated soft drinks, shampoo, and Nissan.  

Everyone scores when you reach the right audience and find the viewers who are most receptive to your message, with ads as relevant and interesting as the game itself -- all 11 minutes of it!

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