State of the Brand :: by Jason Voiovich

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March Madness Viewing is a Team Sport

Posted on | April 11, 2011 | No Comments

Jason Voiovich

Key Points:
1. Post NCAA tournament viewership data revealed (for the first time in stark measurable terms) what we instinctively knew already: A significant share of viewers take in the games outside the home.
2. This 20% figure may well hold true for other “events” – sports for sure, but also award shows, contests, and other “real” (not “reality”) dramas.
3. In those cases, we need to think differently about the situational behaviors of viewers in communal environments versus the home; they may not respond the same way to messaging.

I happened to be in San Diego during the beginning of the NCAA Basketball tournament. Specifically, I was there with someone very emotionally invested in the fate of the Ohio team.

And like every tradeshow, the hotel bar was packed with impromptu business meetings, booth workers burning off steam, and vacationers wondering what the heck we were all doing there. But more than any of those things on this trip, every television was tuned to a different Division I game – and there were a lot of onlookers.

I come to find out, we were not alone.

In fact, Adweek reported this week that the Arbitron data showed “out of home” viewing boosted the overall March Madness numbers 20%. What’s better, those increases hit the all-important 18-49 male demographic.

Out of home viewing includes hotels and bars (like the Hilton in San Diego) as well as all manner of restaurants, sports bars, and common areas. I won’t bore you with the details of how the data are collected, but suffice to say, it’s reasonably complicated, error prone, but getting better. Advertisers have always known intuitively that large sports events are communal draws, but finally have the data to back it up.

What does that mean in dollar terms: CBS took in $613.8 million during the tournament for a reach of 10.2 million viewers, making each viewer worth just over $60.00. Put another way, out of home viewing accounted for over $122 million of the take.

Those are solid numbers.

A few years ago, I wrote about Nielsen On Location media, which was the first major effort to pin down the market for viewership at hotels, restaurants, restrooms, and gas stations. At the time, this was a $1.3 billion market, with advertisers putting money into the media without really having decent measurables. Now we do, and the market for this media type is taking off. (Geolocation advertising enabled by the growth of smartphones certainly has helped).

What’s so important about the March Madness figures is that it finally quantifies a behavior the advertising community always knew was true: Human beings are social animals. We want to experience media with other people – specifically in this case, 20% of the time.

But I think we can be even more specific.

Here’s what advertisers would really like to know: What types of programming are likely to draw the most out of home viewing? And if we know that, where are they and how do we better target them with relevant products and services?

I’ll take a stab at this one. March Madness was able to grab a 20% share outside the home because it is, fundamentally, a shared experience. With the proliferation of instant media updates, if I can’t watch the game, I can certainly keep up with the score and the highlights. But that’s misses the experiential nature of the game – I don’t see the inherent drama, the missed shots, the flow of the game. Those are all things we don’t want to time-shift. Once you know the final score, some of the magic of the game is gone.

So we want to experience it when it’s happening. And ideally, many of us want to experience it in the company of others. Major sporting events are an obvious draw (the measurable success of pay per view boxing is another example of this concept), but I think we can expand it beyond just sports. Any programming event where knowing the outcome in advance completely ruins the drama falls into this category – awards shows, contests (American Idol), etc. Even the last episode of Seinfeld. Anything that becomes an “event”. Not a “psuedo-event” – i.e. the season finale of CSI Miami, or pseudo-unpredictable reality TV – but real, unscripted drama.

If the 20% share holds for these types of events, we need to rethink that sub-component of our audience. Let’s say the audience for a PPV boxing event is primarily male, college educated, 25-45. What might be different about the 1/5 of that audience viewing in a communal location? For one, if I were advertising a product or service they might want (but might be ashamed to admit to wanting – “male enhancement” anyone?), you can write off 20% of the audience who might not associate a certain level of embarrassment with your product. You could also envision the opposite scenario, where 20% of your audience might be even more attune to a new microbrew. In fact, they might be inclined to ask for it on the spot! Talk about measurability.

These numbers really boil down to a new layer to examine during the media buying process – situation-specific media consumption – in which a significant portion of your target audience might behave (or not behave!) like you expect.

It seems like the more data we get, the more complex a picture emerges. Good luck to us all.

Related Links:
Adweek: Exclusive: Bar, Hotel Viewing Lifts March Madness Numbers 20%
Your hotel television is watching . . . you


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Jason Voiovich
director_corporate marketing, Logic PD
Black Belt
Caffeine Addict

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