The Flexible Advertiser’s New Approach to TV: Learnings from the Olympics

Joe Warren, EVP, Media Investment | Brian Ericson, Director, Video Investment

September 9, 2021

CMI Media Group has pushed for many years a data driven approach to media and promoted a deep understanding of our clients’ target audiences and their interactions with media publishers as a competitive advantage. Succinctly stated, clients should have a data approach that allows them to:

  1. Ensure that they have a deep and complete understanding of their target audiences
  2. Understand the complexity of the media ecosystem, particularly with reference to their target audiences’ interactions and use of media
  3. Maintain flexibility with their strategic approach as the media market adjusts to the massive changes that digital transformation is bringing
  4. Create a learning agenda

In many ways the recent NBC coverage of the Tokyo Summer Olympics is a timely reminder of just how challenging the current ecosystem can be even for experienced publishers (such as NBC) and more broadly the advertising industry. As recently as this year’s Upfront (May/June) there was optimism for a rebound in audiences wanting to watch live sports after a significant time without this form of entertainment. The Olympics were billed as an opportunity for NBC’s streaming service Peacock to shine, as the trend continues for audiences adopting OTT and streaming services as a replacement for their broadcast viewing.

Unfortunately, for NBC the expected audiences did not appear. It was widely reported that NBC’s average primetime audience of 12.9 million viewers was the smallest network audience since 1988 (a drop of 49% from Rio de Janeiro four years ago and 58% from London in 2012). As a result, advertisers that invested heavily in the Olympic Games will have to contend with significantly smaller brand impact than they had expected (and paid for).

There is a lot to learn from the Olympics as we look forward to a future that will be far more focused on distributing content through a complex ecosystem of streaming video and social platforms. This trajectory of fragmentation and desire for more digestible content is apparent, and in many respects, the complexity of the video ecosystem was to blame for the decline in viewership. NBCU utilized the power of their linear portfolio – in addition to NBC and Peacock, there was live coverage across USA, CNBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel, Telemundo & Universo – which ultimately caused confusion for audiences on when and where to access certain games. Plus, it soon became apparent (and widely discussed on social media) that navigating the Peacock app and discovering exactly which sports were going to be available was a challenge. Ultimately, given the time difference between Japan and the USA of 13-16 hours, the media ecosystem further fragmented with results announced via Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and others ahead of the larger networks.

The continuation of declining linear ratings and supply, coupled with the fragmentation of access points to video content, has created a host of opportunities to advertise to key target audiences and often to be able to do this in a more personalized and engaging way. For our healthcare clients that took the time to tightly define their consumer target audiences and extend past broad demographic profiles and move to a more complete view of their niche target audiences (behavioral, health proactivity, and segmentation), they continued to have significant opportunities to build their brand messaging.

Understanding your target audience at a one-to-one level has significant advantages even within blockbuster broadcast events. Targeted online video strategies remained successful even against the negative backdrop of ratings, as niche media targets can be reached through their connected devices while watching events and allowing for optimizations in near real-time. Targeting individuals rather than programming means your advertising would be shown on the connected screen, providing that individuals within your targeted cohort were present, and not relying on one-to-many ratings metrics.

Furthermore, the time zone challenges that disrupted TV Primetime broadcasts with news of events appearing ahead of the broadcast was again an opportunity for sophisticated marketers. It is no surprise to many sports fans that results are available instantly. Segmentation of niche targets along the line of social media activity allows for a communications strategy that leans into these types of opportunities. A segmented understanding of target audiences within the social media environment allows for multi-messaging options, increasing brand engagement. Brands that adopt multi-media approaches to events such as the Olympics appear to be more connected, have their finger on the pulse, and can expect to achieve better awareness results from a multi-platformed approach.

The impact of social video and consumer interaction during the Olympics also highlighted our third tenet of planning – remaining flexible within the media plans. Clients that were able to optimize advertising would have achieved significantly stronger results than brands with broader traditional spend commitments. As the Games continued with declining viewership across platforms, NBC needed to contend with making good their impression deficits to advertisers. Clients focused on a data-driven, programming & platform agnostic approach across digital platforms see greater flexibility in reaching their target audience as the campaign is optimized outside of specific programming, shifting with data points to reach their target when and where they are consuming media.

With the winter Olympics taking place in Beijing in February it will be very interesting to understand what lessons have been absorbed from both broadcasters’ and advertisers’ perspectives. Hopefully we’ll have an event with live audiences and the Olympics will once again be a platform that expresses human hope on many levels. As digital transformation continues in the TV/video ecosystem, our view is that the only way to maintain an understanding of that change is through data. A data-driven approach to consumer targeting aligned with a cross platform approach relying on precision in everything from search, social, all forms of addressable media, analytics and reporting will deliver a clear competitive advantage.