Here's a money quote – literally – from a top media executive:
“Our entire media model is based on reach, and it's been that way for decades. We look for media strategies that will get our (content) in as many households as possible, and that has traditionally meant broadcast…and broadcast is still very powerful. The issue is that now reach is more complicated because more people are spending more time on digital platforms.”
No, these are not the words of a radio or television corporate officer. It's Brian Rolapp, the chief media and business officer of the National Football League. And he's talking about how the impact of network TV football games is changing.
I did a little light editing on his quote, but the essence of it is on-point. And that leads to the biggest question facing the NFL this season – besides where to forward Antonio Brown's mail and the size of Tide's ad budget:
How to stop the bleeding from the continued loss of NFL ratings on broadcast and cable TV
As Rolapp notes, the league cannot sit still and continue to produce the same product, season after season, year after year and expect a different result. And that's especially true when it comes to its in-game commercial format. Just like in radio, there are only so many minutes in an hour, a quarter, and a game. How they are configured could make a huge difference in the ways in which fans watch the games – or avoid them.
In a recent story in The Drum by Andrew Blustein – “NFL calls shrinking ad breaks a win as it plots growth across digital” – Rolapp says the league has challenged both its advertisers and its affiliates to propose new innovations for how to program all those commercials.
If you watched any NFL games over this past weekend, you may have noticed three significant changes in the way the league is architecting its advertising.
First, the advent of what are called “double box commercials” – quick 6-second ads that run side by side during the game. Second, there are fewer breaks per quarter – from five to four. And finally, the NFL is making more use of archived content and digital platforms – like Twitter and Instagram – to grow the league's presence beyond broadcast parameters.
These moves are showing signs of success. Rolapp says the NFL's research indicates viewers are as – if not more – attentive to “double box commercials.” And their belief is that fewer commercials and fewer interruptions will help it maintain or grow its broadcast ratings.
And then there's the digital piece. Rolapp says the NFL has a sandbox in which to experiment with new commercial formats and innovations – the NFL Network. It carries eight games in a much less pressurized advertising environment giving the league a chance to see how new marketing innovations work. The best ones can be brought to the big broadcast games.
The radio analogies are obvious. We've talked about KNDD's “2 Minute Promise” many times in this blog – because it has worked. But these types of commercial experiments in radio are too few and far between. While the NFL might be searching hard to find more innovative ways to meld its content with its marketing power, broadcast radio does not seem to be as motivated.
Yet, radio has its equivalent of an NFL Network testing ground. Many, many multi-station clusters have an under-performing station that's often “bonused” by the sales department. These perennial losers are almost under-funded and overlooked.
They could be the place for experimentation – whether it's featuring a novel music format, trying a new talk concept, or test driving a new reduced commercial format. And at the same time, integrating different digital tools, whether it's under-the-radar social media platforms, Twitch, Facebook Live, video streaming, or other distribution outlets rarely used could become a Petri dish for broadcast radio.
HD2s provide another testing ground for all sorts of innovations, whether they're content or commercial-related.
The NFL may or may not figure it out. But there's too much money riding on these games, franchise fees, advertising partnerships, player salaries, and the value of the teams themselves not to give it the old college try.
For the NFL – and radio – it's time to drop back and start attempting some creative pass plays – before we're all forced to throw a Hail Mary.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.
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