Mobile March Madness 2015: Growing Streaming and Advertising

March 13, 2015
By: Bob Wallace

There’s no denying that the live streaming of the annual three-week, 67-game college basketball March Madness tournament has sustained strong year over year cross-platform growth, and is posed to impress again starting on Selection Sunday.

What’s more noteworthy, however, are the large strides made on the mobile video front, in both the number of streams and in opportunities for advertisers.

A report on Tuesday claimed that advertisers have snapped up more than 95 percent of all available airtime in the linear TV broadcasts (across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV) and the March Madness Live digital stream.

In the past, Turner and CBS streamed the same video and ads online and to mobile devices as was available on TV. The soaring interest in reaching a mobile audience has changed the complexion of the event streaming.

Selling Fast

This year, some March Madness advertisers are buying space for TV ads and ads in the live stream, while others are only buying spots in the live stream, according to a Turner Sports spokesperson. Ushering in the era of mobile March Madness with a revamped app and more supported devices will make the unique event a mobile video marketing must.

“It's like we've been seeing for years with the Super Bowl, where everyone wants to roll out a new ad when they know everyone's watching," Turner Broadcasting (News - Alert) System President David Levy told AdAge. "This year, you're going to see a lot of clients breaking new creative in March Madness."

That is clearly helped, to a large extent, by the massive following of college basketball in the U.S. and the duration of the tournament. And since sports is the most coveted live sports content, that’ s a trifecta in itself, one that draw advertisers like moths to light.

Last Year vs. 2013

Riding the mobile wave, last year’s March Madness posted record-setting numbers. While live video streams across all platforms were up 42 percent over 2013, live video streams on mobile were up 71 percent over the previous year’s tournament numbers, according to Turner Sports.

Last year the event did 69.7 million live video streams across all platforms, as opposed to 49 million in 2013. The rise began years ago.

Although the number of hours of live video consumed last year—15 million—was up 7 percent over 2013, the growth in mobile live streams suggests more are watching, especially via mobile devices, but perhaps not for quite as long.

March Madness’ mobile video growth tracks with research from industry kingpins from the video measurement industry.

Ooyala’s Q4 '14 Global Video Index, which looks at the overall market as opposed to one event or category, reported a  record 38 percent of video views in December, 2014 happened on mobile devices, that’s up from under 18 percent in December, 2013. Mobile accounted for 34 percent of video views for the full fourth quarter of this year.

The Expanding Ad Opportunity

“March Madness has evolved into Marketing Madness,” said Jon Swallen, Chief Research Officer at Kantar Media. His firm estimates that the ad spend for March Madness 2014 was $1.13 billion, for a grand total of $7.5 billion since 2005.

The industry has been awash in recent weeks in research and tracking numbers on the growth of mobile video ads. The same goes for brands working with their ad agencies to take advantage of fast-growing mobile video viewing.

As more TV watchers turn to online to watch their favorite TV shows, views of digital video ad that come with those shows online is also growing. Freewheel data reveals that these ads alone grew 67 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Expect this trend to continue forward as more TV shows are staples in emerging and anticipated OTT subscription services from a growing list of content owners (HBO), broadcast networks (CBS), CE vendors (Sony) and service providers (Verizon (News - Alert)). They will join recent launches by DISH Networks (Sling TV).

Intensified competition in this expanding sector is good news and bad news for advertisers. While more choices are typically good, reaching your target market could be difficult as brands might need to go with multiple offerings to accomplish that goal.

Strategy Shift

Gone are the days of paying $3.99 for the app needed to watch all the games live. Instead Turner embraced the TV Everywhere (TVE) approach whereby fans looking to go beyond a free viewing period, must have a pay-TV package and login with their provider to watch the games. TVE was used in 2013.

With the over five-year old TVE approach, those with pay-TV packages can watch the games on desktops and mobile devices free as a perk created to help cable companies and others retain customers in a stretch where subscribers have been cutting the cord for video viewing alternatives, be they over the web or over the-air.

TVE has come under fire in the last year with many claiming awareness and actual use need boosts. Direct-to-consumer plays such as HBO’s OTT service could dilute it. Luckily for Turner, a sports programming giant, live sports is one of the few remaining programming types keeping folks from cutting the cord.

Sports Fans or TVE Lovers?

In fact, sports fans have been willing to pay rate increases, regional sports network (RSN) charges, and broadcast TV fees from cable TV packages that have driven others off. These same fans also commonly pay for extra sports programming tiers and sport-specific packages such as DIRECTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket.

Don’t be fooled though, this group of cable TV subscribers are looking for alternatives without sacrificing live sports. They just haven’t found any—yet. That’s because the price of sports programing would make OTT services too pricey for the audiences they hope to attract.

In the meantime, let the games begin. Enjoy the show, and the ads.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino