Consumer Digital Video: More Than A Web Buzz Word For Sports Sponsors

Buzzwords certainly make the Internet go ’round. From general categories like mobile and social, to the more recent consumer digital media phenomena like social games and daily deals, the Web churns out a constant stream of user experiences that enable new (and old) companies to connect with audiences in a meaningful way. There is one Internet buzzword, however, that has its roots firmly entrenched in old media, yet continues to grow wildly across all elements of the consumer Web: Video.

On one level, video is a pretty straightforward proposition for digital publishers: digitize movies, TV shows, sports highlights, etc. and put them on a web site that attracts a relevant audience. This approach works just fine and has enabled the growth to a large extent of media company web sites and even the emergence of aggregation properties like But as consumer behavior continues to evolve in digital media, video needs to be treated less as a “cut and paste” exercise and more like the unique opportunity it represents for publishers and brands to co-exist on behalf of audiences.

Three core elements stand out as critical to driving the success of consumer digital video in the years ahead.

As with any content offering, creative elements will drive the bus. The programming format has to fit the medium. For sports fans this means being topical, timely and value added. So what’s topical for sports fans? Anything about their teams, of course -- especially if it’s forward looking. Highlights are great, but they oftentimes come after the fact in the mind of a sports fan who is already trying to figure out what’s on the horizon for their beloved squad.

And this is where timeliness becomes critical. Putting a premium on a shorter piece that fits demand in a specific consumption window makes more sense than pumping out a polished long-form stream days or even hours after consumer demand spikes. Great digital video programming means being able to react to news and delivering video perspective on what it means exactly when fans are looking for that perspective.

Ultimately, being topical and timely are the foundation of value-added programming. But value added goes a bit deeper. The obvious example is the fantasy sports video nugget that helps me make a “start or sit” decision. In this example, video can be a more emotive and impactful delivery of that content than a simple article on the same topic. Value added can also come in the form of making the sports fan laugh, get fired up to comment and even moving a fan to share the video with friends and fellow fans (e.g., their social graph).   

In today’s digital media environment, it’s hard to overstate the rapid migration to mobile consumption. Apple’s 4S launch this past Friday was met -- like previous iPhone launches -- with rabid user demand. We are fast evolving into a nation of sports fans toting powerful media consumption mini-computers in our pockets called smartphones.

The smartphone only amplifies the sports fan’s expectations when it comes to timely, topical and value added sports programming. Packaging meaningful sports video together about the teams and topics the fan craves fits in line with how consumers increasingly use these devices. Commute time, lunch breaks and evening decompress time are all prime windows for the mobile device to deliver relevant sports insights and perspective to fans.

Moving forward, the opportunity for publishers will be to segment programming that meets fan demand in the pre-, post- and in-game consumption windows. The in-game window represents an opportunity to deliver more than in-game highlights. Mobile devices enable a companion consumption experience that lets the fan dive into a multitude of topics spawned by what happens on the field. And much of that will be driven by Web search and publishers who do the best job aggregating video content about the most relevant sports content fans might desire while they are watching their team from the couch or a bar stool.

Sponsorship opportunities
For sports marketers, video represents a powerful conduit to connect with highly engaged sports fans. In the near term, the ability to leverage existing 15-second and 30-second video creative as pre-roll ads tied to video is the path most easily accessible to sponsors. There are two other paths that will give brand advertisers a deeper connection with sports fans consuming digital video.

Investing in creative “overlay” advertising -- the traditional TV equivalent of the lower-third unit -- creates a less intrusive and more permanent presence for the brand to sit adjacent to compelling video content. Sports fans have come to expect some level of advertising integration on the screen around the video they are watching. Dropping a brand slice at the bottom of the viewing screen from, say, Ford strikes a good balance for sponsors and users -- and as Ford gets more targeted information about the behavior of the audience it can target the messaging in those overlay ads to make them more timely, topical and value added for the sports fan just like the programming.

In the long run, the investment sponsors need to explore around their investments in digital video will reside in the video presentation itself. As screens get smaller -- particularly the fan watching video through the iPhone or Android phone screen -- the most logical place for the advertiser to sit will be embedded in the video as a branded-content element. Whether in the form of explicit treatments in the voice-overs and graphical packages in the video, the placement of the brand in the programming (think of the Gatorade bottle sitting on the table during post-game interviews), or the brand’s logo affixed to the video talent in some way (logos, after all, are already on player jerseys), we should expect to see the marketers most committed to digital media sponsorship leading this innovation in the context of the evolving world of digital sports video.

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