Tag Archives: NFL

If All Screens Are TVs, What Then?

TVolution Last week, the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences announced that they would be awarding prestigious Emmy Awards in an expansion of the short-form series category. The deeper explanation of categories and requirements is:

The Emmys has expanded the short-form series awards to four categories: comedy or drama; variety; reality/non-fiction; and animation. Series must have a minimum of six episodes with an average length of 15 minutes or less, and be shown on traditional TV or via the Internet. Awards have also been added for short-form actor and actress as well.

What struck me is the inclusion of something that was not traditionally television within a “traditional” television environment. While not completely out of line with what the academy has done in the past – they have a membership group that focuses on digital content and they already expanded the meaning of Primetime when they included cable shows that could effectively be consumed at any time (a la HBO, Showtime, BBC) nearly two decades ago, before even DVRs and time shifting came around – it certainly seemed a bit of a land grab for an organization to stay relevant in the shifting of landscapes to an unknown future.

Then, there’s a lot of noise about Facebook making a play for the streaming rights to NFL games over the past day or so that really brings to question:

What do we consider a TV moving forward?
If all screens are TVs, how are people going to interact with them and content?
When will we start gaining from data insights in making it a better experience?

Just looking at Facebook and their want for live sports content, they’ve already driven video views on the platform to 100MM per day. The opportunity to completely do away with second screen environments – where your friend’s comments appear adjacent to the video, effectively making it a huge virtual sofa – is an evolutionary game changer. And, the predictive opportunity for delivering content based specifically on what you’ve been interested in that day or even that hour is mind-numbing.

One challenge in all of this is how closely tied to the past TV – of any form -remains. Though the rising interactivity allows for lean forward video consumption, there are far more viewers sticking to the lean back model. They still might make a selection off their DVR, VOD, or even that time-worn event of choosing a channel, but why can’t we start moving toward content delivered in linear fashion based on what you would probably be interested in right now?

Why do we see a huge amount of content highlighted based on what we watched in the middle of the night on Netflix when I’m logging in with my kids mid-day on a weekend? How come I do an incredible amount of searching on Google, yet their owned YouTube only prompts videos that I’ve already showed my kids on my computer a month prior? When will Facebook come forward with a “You’ll Also Like” product based on what video I’ve consumed and not what my friends post? (To give Facebook credit, they’ve done something like this, but it comes across as being more advertising than value-add.)

I do see a time when we will be able to turn on a stream of content – both short and long-form – and predictive technologies will line up the content and you can choose to watch or skip. The reality is that there is so much data there, it’s sort of silly not to use it. Whether it is Google or Facebook that have people exploring on a daily basis – and they also deliver content – or Cable/Satellite providers who might have relationships with data providers, there should be an ability to curate in real-time what the viewer might want right now. The use of data right now is usually only good for showing me what I was interested in then. Imagine the possibilities if we could have what is top-of-mind now delivered to us.

Perhaps this thinking isn’t even breaking enough from the TV norms as we know them. As much of content is evolutionary, perhaps this will just be a step to opening our minds and experiences to enable an content distribution/consumption cycle we can’t even yet conceive of.

For those reasons, I’m excited about the question of “What Then?”

Whipping Products Together To Form A Fan Frenzy

There’s not much that’s truly original nowadays.  While titles of shows and movies may change, their stories are quite often very similar to something you’ve seen before.  Games and toys are generally revamps of items that have been around for decades (or even centuries).  And, if you check out fashion, there is an uncanny bit of style that comes back around every three decades. Sure, there’s usually some twist, but how do you get people to buy into your new product when it seems we’ve been there before?  The NFL doesn’t have the specific problem that others have – as it’s a sporting event and comes with its own built-in fan-base – but they are making great use of existing products that can help to separate themselves from the pack.

Promotional Unit from NFL

In anticipation for the new NFL season (when everyone can hold hope that their team might actually be good before proving otherwise on the field) the NFL network has announced a cool program surrounding their slate of Thursday night games airing on NFL Network. Engaging the fan community, NFL Network is asking fans to submit videos of themselves singing the chorus for the new Cee Lo Green song (based on The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”) that will kick off each Thursday night’s coverage – beginning September 13th.  To refresh memories, the song is the one with the repeated calls of “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!“.  Green will certainly add his artistic touches, but the videos of fans singing the well-known chorus will be spliced into the 90 second intro.

This engagement choice is strong because it seems like such a no-brainer.  They’ve provided the platform to bring Social Media to a new height – at least in terms of broadcast video.  The residual ability for fans to drive viewership of the intro – once finding out that their videos were selected – means that there should be a larger life for the intro videos than there would have been if fans were not incorporated.

This program’s components point to the additive benefit of Social Media.  Even the social features are derivative of other programs that have been done before, but their packaging is what brings it to another level.  Will more people tune in at the beginning of broadcasts to see the Fanthem?  We’ll see, but the NFL should definitely drive more interest both night-of and following on sites and social networks.  If Monday Night Football’s Hank William Jr’s song was able to energize the fan-base, this Cee Lo Green mashup with The Ramones using a strategic package of social media platforms should right whip them into a frenzy.

Hulu and Partners Score with AdZone

As we’ve seen in this year’s exciting NFL postseason, its extremely challenging to get to the big game – the Super Bowl. It could be as simple as a young player filling in for the injured regular and turning the ball over or a seasoned veteran just flat-out missing a chip-shot field goal that keeps the team out of the championship. Those who have made it are in elite air and the same could be said about the commercials.  There’s only a limited number of slots (thankfully) and the price gets steeper and steeper each year. Hulu’s AdZone returns again this year to showcase how strategic programming can celebrate those who have been there and enable brands to get extremely close at a fraction of the cost.

Hulu just launched Hulu AdZone 2012 as a platform to provide access to over 250 Super Bowl ads from years past and even preview some ads that will run in this year’s Bowl on the 5th of February.  On the night of the game, fans will be able to view ads in an embeddable widget, rate them and share them across all social media channels – with a live leaderboard tracking results in real-time.

Volkswagen's Dark Side spot (Dogs Barking to Vader's Theme)

But here’s where things get interesting… Through sponsorships and partnerships, Hulu is able to generate even more cachet – and money – where they might not have been able to without a program built for this event.  They also provide opportunities for a brand to effectively be a part of all of the Super Bowl spots.

You can see in the image above how Toyota secured persistent branding across the experience through their “Brought to you by” placement.  So, even though they won’t hit the number of viewers the telecast will have, they will be there for everything from the old Apple “1984” spot through the Volkswagen  Star Wars spots – and all other spots running during this year’s game. There is always a plan by the publishers to latch on to key cultural and sporting events to monetize them and Hulu built a strong product to do just that in an elegant way.

Helping Hulu to up the ante is in partnering with Advertising Age to editorialize groupings of “best ofs” over the years.  Through this partnership, Hulu is able to bring their game to a higher level as a news – or at least curatorial – offering. AdAge also gains a platform to reach entertainment consumers who may not otherwise care about a trade publication – further spreading their brand recognition.

All in, this platform and others – like what YouTube and USA Today offers – provide defacto built-in long-tail benefits of placing ads in the Super Bowl.  Unless, of course, the ad sucks. Those usually only live on for a few days, mired in a heap of negativity.

It is hard to get into the game as a player, advertiser or even a fan.  Many try to get there or be associated in one form or another.  Hulu seems to have found a great solution to check off and score on all of the above.

Systems Are Imperative For Consistently Reaching The Goal

This last weekend of the NFL regular season – and even the entire season – revealed a lot about systems and the teams of people you put together to be successful.  If anything, companies can learn a great deal about the importance of entire teams and not just individuals to bring about success and growth.  In some ways, it showed that if you rely too much on an individual their loss of productivity can hurt everyone and on the flip side, that if you have a strong system in place with talented people, you won’t miss a beat when an individual stumbles or leaves. Shooting from the hip might help once in a while, but proper planning and systems set your company up for a long time to come.

A lot of buzz has been made in the past year about Steve Jobs and whether Apple can move on without him.  We also see a lot of importance placed on CEOs and senior management when they succeed or fail and what effect it will have on the business.   I won’t be so naive to suggest that leadership is not important, but I will use a couple of storylines from the last weekend and the full season of the NFL to point out how a well established environment and system can allow both individuals and the entire organization to flourish.  I’ll also delve into how incredible talent can mask the wounds that are festering.

The first side of this is the feel good story of Matt Flynn – a seventh round draft pick making only his second start on Sunday – who had a record-breaking day of 480 yards passing and 6 touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers.  It’s hard not to cheer for the guy, but even he recognized that a lot of his success was due to the system.  The team is coasting into the postseason and might have been fine with average play from their back-up quarterback (so that superstar QB Aaron Rodgers can get some rest and get healthy) so it was brilliant that got such amazing play instead.  The system helped them to not miss a beat.  Green Bay Head Coach Mike McCarthy could get much of the credit, but there’s a lot of front office people who have a part in that credit – not to mention the other players on offense surrounding Flynn.

The Packers run a system that allows personnel to clearly know their part in the machine and excel.  A few other teams like the Patriots and Steelers have the same storied types of systems that allow them to compete year in and year out.  But, when players from those systems – especially quarterbacks – go on the free market (like Matt Flynn will be doing this offseason) too much credence is placed on the individual and not on the team.  One player of recent memory to benefit from a stint in a strong systems is Matt Cassel.  Cassel filled in for the injured Tom Brady and performed really well.  He was subsequently picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs as their franchise QB and he has been average since.  The Chiefs are again ending the season with a losing record – though Cassel has been injured for many of those.  Three years with the Chiefs and Chiefs management are now talking about bringing in more staff that are familiar with the Patriots system. Sort of shows the value of a good system, huh?

On the other side of the coin is a player like Peyton Manning.  The Indianapolis Colt’s abysmal season with Manning on the sideline throughout proves how phenomenal a talent he is and how management depended too much on him.  With talent like Manning’s, it was easy to make everyone around him look good.  Even when he wasn’t on the field, the defense was in better position because they felt that Manning could get them out of any hole.  Over the years, Manning broke a lot of opposing fan’s hearts with late-game magic.  Having received neck surgery prior to the season and sitting it out, the team dabbled with the possibility of going winless.  They did win two games and the fact the team didn’t implode is a testament to the players and the coaching staff, but it was clear that Manning was able to hide (or at least enable you  to forget) the team’s faults for too long.  If they had a system, it seems that it was to rely on a superstar quarterback and hope that the defense can hold on in enough games to get deep into the post-season. This season proved that it’s not a good system – if it is truly one at all.

Upon the ending of the season, The Colts have fired the progenitor of the existing system – General Manager, Bill Polian – with NFL.com reporting:

» By removing Bill Polian as vice chairman, the Colts really are embarking in an entirely new direction in terms of how they procure talent and build a roster. Under Polian, the Colts favored quickness over size, having young players on defense and putting their salary-cap resources into offensive skill players. That likely will all change with a new GM, who will have to come in with a comprehensive organizational plan that includes finding players who fit the team’s new philosophy. It also will take some time to turn over the roster.

Neither of these situations are as clear as they are made out to be, but they do provide a strong argument for management setting up clear and logical systems that enable teams to excel whether made up of  passable or phenomenal talent.

You absolutely need to bring on the best talent possible, but setting up the best system for all employees to flourish might be the best work senior management might achieve.  With a strong system or foundation in place, the strong talent can go above and beyond rather than spending too much time and energy on bringing their realm into a level they are comfortable with.  Without a system, that level or realm might not work well with the other components of the business, causing further breakdowns. 

With a strong system, there is no guesswork and there is a clear illustration of how things fit together.  It allows the proactive “players” to see how what they do affects others and allows them to take positive steps while also allowing for them to be managed in productive ways.  Of course, the best systems are the ones that can conform somewhat to new strategies and initiatives or even available talent.  In the least, it provides a clearer understanding of what type of talent you really need to run well.

In the end, this post could go on forever about the benefits of strong systems, but I’m not looking to create a record-breaking post – just one that can help you win the proverbial foot race to the goal.

How Do You Force Viewers To See?

While watching an NFL game on DVR, my 3 year-old daughter yelled for me to stop speeding through the commercials.  I can only dream that she actually cared enough about football to be ensconced in what was on the television.  And, any marketer or media planner would be dreaming to think that this was a sign of the future – where people will be demanding that commercials not be forwarded through.  To be fair, Scrat (of ICE AGE fame) would have to be included in all TV spots to garner this much attention from a child on a regular basis.  The furry prehistoric rodent chasing an acorn was what forced my daughter to make me stop and go back to view the spot in real-time.  This phenomenon and other research within the last 6 months – and even released this week – point toward a dynamic, nuanced future of A/V media challenges and opportunities.

From A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Back when DVRs came out, there was such a concern about viewers not watching commercials.  People were lamenting the end of commercials and the required changes to in-content product placement.  That execution of product placement has seen varying degrees of success, but the commercials still remain key.  Back in May, IPG Media Lab and YuMe released a report that showed these results regarding TV viewing:

When participants did use the DVR to fast forward TV ads, nearly half of them paid full attention to the screen during that process. Fast-forwarded ads had 12% more attention levels than non-fast-forwarded ads. Despite the advantage of eyes on screen, fast-forwarded ads had much lower recall than non-fast-forwarded ads.

Ultimately, we don’t know what the ads used were, but from my own experience, I usually DVR the same shows each week and the ads are pretty consistent from week-to-week.  Does the repetition factor of the same commercials being fast-forwarded through create a collective impression and conveyance of its message?  For years, research has proven that people need to see something numerous times for it to sink in – it shouldn’t be any different here. Again, from my own experience (and, I guess, my daughter’s) those ads with something engaging – whether through content or imagery – attract attention and cause me to check it out.

The key with DVRs is that you still have to look at the screen – even if just to see when the commercials end and the program begins. The IPG MediaLab/YuMe report also focused on online viewing of shows that force you to watch 30 second spots – causing a higher recall rate.  But the kicker (or relative ad destroyer) was the distraction of smartphones – causing a 60% distraction rate for TV and 46% distraction rate for online video.

The addition of smartphones to the mix is the focus of a recent Razorfish Outlook Report by Jeremy Lockhorn.  The report’s focus is on the multi-screen future – with its own set of challenges. Realizing that 80% of the respondents multitask on their mobile phone while watching television, further details are striking:

70 percent of respondents who multitask do so at least once a week, with nearly half (49 percent) reporting everyday multitasking. Furthermore, during the course of a TV program, more than 60 percent check their phones at least “once or twice,” and 15 percent stay on the mobile Web for the full duration of the show.

Now, the question becomes “How many people are actually paying full attention to the screen while my commercials are running?”  One response to this is, perhaps, that DVRs aren’t quite so bad.  At least we know there’s eyeballs on the images if people are fast-forwarding.  They aren’t having the time to disengage like they would with mobile or laptop communication. And, with the way we are learning to absorb information at faster rates than ever before, we can’t write off that fast viewing.  If my daughter can catch something of interest at 3X speed, then current and future adults should be able to do the same – if not better.

Perhaps the winner here for “traditional” media is online video – where people are forced to watch spots at commercial breaks – even if it is just one commercial at 30 seconds instead of four of them equalling two minutes on air. When watching video on your mobile, tablet or even laptop, it is more challenging to whip out that second screen to interact.

The future does provide more opportunities.  We are seeing the unleashing of many second-screen applications for synchronized content – from HBO GO, to the ABC products, to numerous others – including the FoxPop App that I developed for 10 home entertainment properties only to be killed too soon because it assisted platforms other than Blu-ray.  If those second-screen iterations are done correctly, they can provide the opportunity to remain connected to their social networks, the web and the content on the screen (with all its advertisers represented fully.)

But, again,the future holds more opportunities that we do not yet see. What we see as the pariah solution now could end up being the best solution for the future. As shown above, the DVR is not necessarily the ad killer we once were worried it would become.  If the right frequency of rotation is booked and the spots are clear enough, even the fast-forwarded commercials can make an impression. Through proper evaluation and strategy, the concerns or challenges of today will bring the solutions for tomorrow without having to force consumer’s eyes against their will.

Marketing Triage?

Near the beginning of the series, TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, one of the main characters, an ER Doctor, realizes that they have to do a radical change in the way they work the ER – because when nobody can die, triage priorities change in how you treat people.

By no means is consumerism making such an abrupt change, but one could wonder if that change has already begun and we should be evaluating how the rules of engagement might be changing in advertising.  Certainly, consumerism fluctuates with the times – sometimes people spend more and sometimes people save more.  The way in which they consume was relatively steady with the forms of consumption growing, yet following a similar path of bartering, going to a store to buy or ordering through a catalog.  But the growth in the past decade or longer has made that change exponentially – you can still do the above (thought bartering keeps rearing its head as an alternative either making a comeback or retreating further into obscurity) but you can also do a huge amount of research and make numerous purchases without leaving your bed.  One of the largest shifts in consumerism is that, sometimes, those purchases from bed are against other people in bidding on second-hand market items.  The questions surrounding the secondary market are too huge and divisive to even get into here, but technology is completely enabling people to not only ascertain a product’s value when they want to buy, but also make a decision to buy based on the value they expect when they have completed their use of it.  Alas, the opportunities to consume are seemingly endless while individual’s abilities to spend are not so limitless.

It also used to be that the timing dynamics of advertising were much shorter – the ad was either in print or on TV for a period of time – and the assumption (or hope) was that consumers would act immediately in response to those influences.  With technology being what it is and the economy being in a state that is sometimes hard to even know when you’re up or when you’re down, those timing dynamics are shifting in increasingly dramatic and variant ways. We would need to pair a degree in marketing with a PHD in mathematics, economics, psychology and perhaps even quantum physics to get to a point where we might have an absolute solution.  As we don’t have that, we’ve got to work our own way through by looking at examples around us:

  • I am so far behind on watching shows in my DVR that, if I actually pay attention to commercials, they are from months ago if not last year.  It was helpful in some instances where images of last year’s NFL promos brought happiness while the lockout was going on this summer.  I can’t tell you how many movie trailers were shown during my time-shifted shows that were already out of the theatres by the time I watched the shows a few weeks later.
  • When looking through websites and apps, I’m seeing ads for items I’ve already purchased or are not in the market for – meaning a wasted impression.
  • Digital billboards are cool, but there are now so many more opportunities to miss the impression as the billboard rotates through slides. Perhaps the only time I’ve wished for a red light to be longer was when I had just caught the last millisecond of an ad and wanted it to cycle through again…
  • With so many requests to be Liked on Facebook or hash-tagged on twitter, there is so much information to pour through and if I’m not online at just the right minute, I miss MANY things entirely due to the volume of feeds on my FB Wall or my Tweetdeck.
  • There are so many choices coming at any one time through all the types of media, there is a much higher proclivity to say “Forget about it. It’s too much and I’m turning it off.”
  • Alternatively, there is so much information that recall is limited and we are left searching for hours comparing products – but who has the time to do that.  Effectively, with this example and the two directly above,the choices are so many that it can physically and mentally be debilitating.
  • This list can go on and on…

Again, this doesn’t touch on the current concern in the economy that PEOPLE JUST AREN’T REALLY SPENDING MONEY.  There are many things on my mind that I want – from the cool Adidas Superstar sneakers at the Undefeated store to the Mercedes SUV I want as my next car – but they are all waiting.  The key is – what will I recall that I want?

The recall is the key. What can we do in marketing that will not only influence demand, but also influence recall when the time comes that the consumer can actually afford to consume?  Some verticals have this easier than others – especially daily consumables that need more active replenishment and are, therefore simpler to recall.  But others, like those mentioned above or lifestyle, fashion, beauty and travel products, need to take the long-term benefit of their efforts into account.  How will they generate excitement and interest in their product and enable them to easily recall that product when the time comes?

We need to find or create the vehicles to help consumers with recall.  Alternatively, we need to be open to new outlets that might be able to help achieve this effectively – both in cost savings and extended reach.  Whether it is being a founding sponsor for an event, charity or business, or a marketing plan that includes spends with new dynamic cost-effective applications that enable residual awareness beyond the original marketing window, there are ways to derive revenue by driving or growing recall.

In far too many cases, companies and organizations are leveraging their slimmed-down workforce to produce the output the company was doing before with fewer resources.  When this is done, there is no choice but to follow the status-quo and do things the way they have always been – even when the economics and the consumers are changing.

Just as the members of the fictional ER of TORCHWOOD determined that its more effective to treat those with the smaller injuries first since the others couldn’t die, let’s hope that we collectively take a good look at what we’re doing before we find the relationship between advertisers and consumers entering into triage.