After months of quietly piecing together TV ad sales deals incorporating out-of-home audience measurement, Turner Sports is now prepared to make the recently-adopted ratings metric a much more integral part of its negotiations with advertisers.
According to Lorie McCarthy, senior VP and general sales manager of Turner Sports, the company is increasingly cutting deals with advertisers that include guarantees based on both traditional linear TV ratings and out-of-home deliveries. Clients particularly have been interested in kicking the tires on Turner's new UEFA Champions League package; since McCarthy and her team began started pitching the 46-match soccer showcase earlier this year, more than half of those deals have been transacted against ratings estimates that include the out-of-home audience.
Now in its second week of covering the UEFA Group Stage matches, TNT's most visible soccer supporters include Geico, AT&T, Expedia, Quicken Loans, Carl's Jr., Progressive and Fruit of the Loom. (Geico is the official pregame sponsor of TNT's UEFA telecasts, while AT&T is backing the halftime show. Ad frequency estimates courtesy of iSpot.tv.) Given that TNT's four weekly UEFA matches will air well outside of prime-time—match days are Tuesday and Wednesday, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET—advertisers may expect to enjoy a considerable ratings lift thanks to European football enthusiasts who duck out of the office to catch up on the action at their local pub.
Soccer's clutter-free space provides a unique environment for advertisers looking to experiment with transacting against out-of-home impressions. Because the rules of the game do not allow for the steady drip of commercial breaks that punctuate other televised sporting events, marketing messages are limited to marquee sponsorship entitlements and whatever inventory is available in the pregame, postgame and halftime shows.
In theory, the combination of live sports, infrequent commercial interruptions and communal viewing should go a long way toward establishing a premium valuation for out-of-home impressions. And while Turner doesn't have a whole lot of actionable UEFA data on its hands at the moment (the company aired its first matches just two weeks ago), the out-of-home intel it gathered during the 2017-18 NBA season suggests that viewers who aren't couch-locked are well worth courting.
In collaboration with the data analytics firm Engagement Labs, Turner examined how ads from nine of its NBA sponsors performed within the context of vanilla, home-based viewing versus the impressions served up in out-of-home milieux like bars, restaurants, gyms and other public venues. Compared to non-NBA viewers who watched the same commercials in other media environments, out-of-home NBA fans demonstrated a 100 percent lift in purchase consideration, a result that topped the already remarkable 85 percent advantage posted by in-home NBA viewers.
Turner also noted a similar increase in the volume of word-of-mouth recommendations of the nine brands and a somewhat less earthshaking comparison between in-home and out-of-home ad recall. Those who watched TNT's NBA coverage from beyond the confines of their own homes exhibited a 51 percent lift in ad recall versus non-NBA viewers, while in-home pro hoops viewers boasted a 49 percent advantage over their non-NBA counterparts.
As much as out-of-home audiences over-index on desirable demographic traits like relative youth and buying power, McCarthy says that negotiating the cost of reaching this particular subset of consumers—viewers who for decades effectively could be marketed to free of charge—is as elastic a process as any other TV-based deal. "We're fluid in our out-of-home pricing," McCarthy says. "As many pricing models as you build out, the marketplace still has the final word."
In terms of the overall audience gains that were credited to out-of-home venues, Turner's first year of NBA data presents a more immediate picture of the impact of all those ancillary deliveries. According to Nielsen, upon application of the out-of-home views, TNT's coverage of the seven-game Western Conference Championship series improved 10 percent from a 3.6 demo rating to a 4.0. In other words, Turner was credited with an average draw of around 516,000 out-of-home viewers per game, a bonus that reinforced an already strong in-home turnout of approximately 4.64 million adults 18 to 49. Out-of-home also improved TNT's average draw of adults 25 to 54 by 9 percent, adding nearly 375,000 members of the demo to an in-home base of 4.6 million.
Turner's out-of-home lifts are consistent with the sort of boosts ESPN and Fox have seen in their own live sports coverage. The first network to guarantee its out-of-home deliveries, ESPN last winter enjoyed an 8 percent lift in its overall post-season college football audience. More recently, out-of-home contributed to a 10 percent improvement in overall TV impressions for Fox's national NFL broadcast window on Sept. 9.
While Turner agreed to subscribe to Nielsen's out-of-home data back in July 2017, the programmer was in no rush to begin transacting against this long-neglected audience. "We wanted to study the data for a year to see what the out-of-home numbers might tell us," McCarthy says, adding that Turner went to market with the option a few months ago. "Not every advertiser wants to do deals that include the out-of-home element, but we do our best to encourage them to consider it."
In addition to the slow-burning UEFA Championship League schedule—the Final is scheduled to air on TNT on June 1, or nearly eight-and-a-half-months following the beginning of Group Stage play—Turner is also gearing up for Major League Baseball's postseason action and the start of the 2018-19 NBA season. TBS will take the hill tomorrow evening, as the Oakland A's and New York Yankees battle for the right to face the Boston Red Sox in the best-of-five American League Division Series. Should the Yankees advance, it will mark the first time baseball's biggest rivals will meet in a playoff series since 2004.
New York is the nation's largest media market, boasting a little more than 7.1 million TV households. Boston is the ninth-largest DMA; other major markets in Turner's postseason mix are No. 7 Houston, No. 8 San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose and No. 19 Cleveland. TBS's ALDS coverage starts Friday, Oct. 5, setting the stage for the best-of-seven American League Championship Series beginning Saturday, Oct. 13.
McCarthy says that while some of TBS's postseason baseball deals include an out-of-home consideration, the vast majority do not. This is largely a function of Turner's gradual immersion into pitching the out-of-home option rather than a commentary on the specific needs of MLB advertisers. During last year's playoffs, out-of-home deliveries juiced TBS's overall audience by around 8 percent, with the earlier contests (primarily the four games of the Chicago-Washington series that teed off at 4 p.m. ET and 5:30 ET) accounting for the biggest overall lifts.
Delays in the implementation of Nielsen's long-gestating Total Content Ratings scheme have proven to be a stumbling block in the effort to raise the out-of-home data to the level of currency. When ESPN back in 2016 took the unprecedented step of convincing an agency holding company to agree to give out-of-home guarantees a whirl, the thinking was that the bar/restaurant/gym impressions would soon be integrated with the all-encompassing new Nielsen data stream. But ongoing software issues and a general failure to deploy the system has prevented out-of-home ratings from attaining the status of currency. Instead, the opportunity to quantify this hitherto ignored audience segment remains something of a side hustle for ad sales execs.
McCarthy acknowledges that out-of-home's somewhat murky ontological status can be a source of some aggravation, before adding that the demand to transact against this subset of younger, more affluent sports fans will only grow as more data becomes available. "It's frustrating and exciting at the same time," she says. "We've always intuitively known that those audiences were out there, so it's encouraging to be able to count the house … while extracting data about purchase intent and ad recall. It's fun to get to play in the sandbox."