A Month Without DVR's - Why Marketers Love February

As sports marketers, we’re lucky enough to operate inside an enviable bubble within the larger broadcast media landscape. In 2016, while cords are being cut all around us and every bit of media out there left to consume turns to a freemium, subscription, or on-demand model; cable sports are one of the last places that the good ol’ model works. Simply put: we watch sports live or we don’t watch them at all. Sponsors are willing to spend big bucks for the guarantee that their messages won’t be glossed over at 4x speed.

A solid – but imperfect metric – for the kind of broadcast programming that defies the DVR is Nielsen’s constantly improving Twitter ratings. A look at the top-tweeted events in 2014 – the last full year the data is available – reveals a few obvious trends: major sporting, reality competitions like The Voice or The Bachelor, award shows and hour-long dramas like The Walking Dead and Pretty Little Liars. 

Scott Kohler, my co-worker and our director of media services, adds this, “These types of programs dominate the second screen. So if you’re not watching in real time, you’re going to have things ruined for you before you even make it to your DVR. Social media adds a lot, but it also raises the stakes on not watching live events – you’re basically betting yourself that you can avoid spoilers if you choose to wait and watch later.”

This all means – thanks to marquee appointment viewing opportunities like the Super Bowl, NBA All-Star weekend, the Grammys, the Oscars, and the mid-season return of The Walking Dead – that February is the most end-to-end DVR-proof, second-screen heavy month on the calendar.

Each of these events is a cottage industry onto itself – with myriad sponsorship opportunities, cross-over promotional efforts, and ambush marketing opportunities for challenger brands looking to crash the party on Twitter or Facebook. As consumers watch less and less programming live, marketers will continue to dedicate more resources to this class of perceived “sure things.”

Need some proof? In 2015, marketers actually paid a higher per-viewer premium for a 30-second ad buy during the Oscars than during the Super Bowl. Yes, you read that right – by more than a couple of metrics, the real king of over-the-top media spending is not the Super Bowl. It might be hard to believe, but in a landscape where only 30 or so broadcasts can pull in over 10 million viewers, the Oscars’ audience of 40 million+ is hard to pass up.

Every marketer is chasing one of those inimitable marketing moments that’s been so reliably produced at these events in years past. Everyone wants their own Ellen DeGeneres Samsung selfie, Oreo blackout tweet, or Blake-Griffin-Dunk-Over-A-Kia. Find it, and you’ll dominate headlines for a day.

These events have also become proving grounds for new opportunities in sponsorship. Not satisfied with selling title sponsorship to the Rising Stars game (BBVA Compass), Inside the NBA (Kia), the D-League All-Star Game (Kumho Tire), All-Star Saturday Night (State Farm), the Skills Challenge (Taco Bell), the Three-Point Contest (Foot Locker), the Slam Dunk contest (Verizon), and NBA Tip-Off (AutoTrader), the NBA has also agreed to allow a logo onto an NBA jersey for the first time.

In a deal agreed upon for an undisclosed fee, sold in as part of a much (much) larger season-long sponsorship package, Kia secured branding rights on All-Star jerseys for 2016 and 2017. If it goes well – or, let’s be serious, if it simply manages to not be a disaster – we’ll certainly be seeing NBA logos on jerseys shortly thereafter.

On The Walking Dead, Hyundai’s marquee show sponsorship resulted in a brand-new SUV being written into the show – pulled out of time and logic, and improbably always clean in the middle of the apocalypse. Interactive apps, original ads and even a series of webisodes were built around the car’s inclusion in the show. It was product-placement-as-narrative, and it certainly won’t be the last time we see a sponsor ingrained in a prestige program on such a highly involved level.

But a lot of the time, the brands which make the most noise are the ones which crash the party. Challenger brands have recognized the opportunity that the second screen provides during appointment viewing and have used hashtags as an unofficial backdoor into the conversation. 

This year, Squarespace has hired Key & Peele to provide running commentary throughout the Super Bowl game. This despite them not having the rights to refer to the teams, players, NFL, or Super Bowl by name. It’s a strange and meta idea that will probably play better with marketers than with consumers, but it is emblematic of how etched these concepts are in our mind.

Three years ago, a single real-time tweet was groundbreaking. This year, a company will pay millions of dollars for an inside joke spoofing the reliability, pomp and circumstance of the entire Super Bowl experience.

But that’s what these events promise – pomp, circumstance, reliability. In a media landscape continually less populated by shared viewing experiences, live sports and other appointment viewing opportunities continue to be impossible for challengers, marketers and viewers to pass up.

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