Live TV Drives More Moments that Matter—to Viewers and Advertisers

Originally Posted On
Ad Age

There seems to be a new “can’t miss” TV moment every day.

For much of the summer, we were drawn to scenes of Americans marching in the name of racial justice. We’ve been equally gripped by recent images of unrest in places such as Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, or the hazy orange sky over California as wildfires rage.

In 2020, astounding live TV moments of all kinds keep coming. Perhaps you caught an incredible and historic comeback by your favorite basketball team or numerous scenes of pro athletes locking arms calling for unity. For some of you, nothing mattered more than gamers livestreaming the hottest new game.

Indeed, in a world where we are all programmers with thousands of hours or shows available on demand with just a few clicks of our remotes, there is nothing quite like the power of a shared live TV moment. Whether it’s live footage from hurricanes, or protests or sports bubbles, it’s hard to forget those images that cause you to call or text a friend saying, “You have to put this on right now.”

In 2020, as everyone’s lives and media habits have been upended by the pandemic, life is having a moment.

Consider that the combination of CNN's TV coverage of the Democratic National Convention and Turner Sports’ broadcasting the 2020 NBA Playoffs across TNT and NBA TV reached a whopping 41.2 million total TV viewers during a single week in August—nearly one out of every five adults in the United States, according to Nielsen.

As linear TV viewing patterns shift quickly, advertisers are finding a renewed interest in advertising alongside—or sometimes within—live broadcasts.

“The way we are approaching this is, ‘How are things different now?’ ‘What programming is attracting fewer or more viewers and why?’ ” says Lisa Herdman, SVP, director of national TV and branded content, at RPA.

Herdman noted that at a certain point during our extended quarantines, many of us exhausted our streaming libraries and were pining to feel connected to others. “Live programming starts to become more relevant, especially the exclusiveness and uniqueness of it,” she says.

Plus, what constitutes live programming has broadened during the COVID-19 crisis. Herdman points to events such as university commencement ceremonies last June that featured some of the most recognizable faces in the world—including President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama. There have been many such unexpected and experimental live formats over the past few months, including CNN's “The ABCs of COVID-19,” a town hall with “Sesame Street” aimed at helping kids understand the coronavirus.

“It’s been great to see the creativity,” Herdman says. “It starts opening up the conversation about how we as brands and programmers can do things differently and makes us wonder about whether we always should have been doing things like this.”

Of course, even as the lockdowns were lifted, the news cycle in 2020 has been hard to believe at times. Yet news content has likely never been more vital, as journalists and government officials seek to keep people informed during the public health crisis. At the same time, the 2020 presidential election race is nearing its final leg with growing intensity. More and more, we’re seeing news consumers latch on to favorite anchors and journalists—tuning into their programs with the same loyalty they’ve shown their favorite scripted shows.

Given that loyalty, as well as the high stakes nature of so many major news events, CNN consistently finds that these viewers are uniquely riveted to programs and, as a result, are highly impacted by ads in these environments.

For example, advertisers in news content are seeing a 12-point lift in brand awareness, according to CNN Research ad effect norms for 2019. The higher profile the event, the larger those metrics seem to grow. Look at last year’s Democratic debate coverage, where ad recall bested live awards shows such as the Tony Awards and Billboard Music Awards, according to a CNN analysis of Phoenix TV Brand Effect data. Furthermore, advertisers like Land Rover have enjoyed as much as a 20-point advantage in brand recall for custom super-squeezeback ads per CNN Research and Real Eyes.

Meanwhile, the return of professional sports has served to fill a unique role in inspiring people while providing a much-needed escape. Sports, by nature, bucks all the current on-demand viewing trends. A Nielsen Media Research study showed that 55 percent of broadcast prime-time viewing is live, as is 73 percent of ad-supported cable prime time—with a whopping 94 percent of Turner Sports consumption happening live. That dynamic only seems to have increased, thanks to the long sports blackout earlier this year. Take Bleacher Report’s digital output—according to Turner Sports, since the NBA returned in July alongside other major sports, 90 percent of its social engagements and 86 percent of video views across its channels have occurred during the hours of live games, indicating that fans can’t get enough.

A perfect example of the pent-up desire for live moments was Capital One’s “The Match: Champions for Charity,” a made-for-quarantine golf tournament featuring PGA rivals Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson along with NFL legends Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. The event provided just the escape so many clearly craved, drawing over 5.8 million viewers across TNT, TBS, truTV and HLN last May—the biggest golf audience in cable history—as well as 172 million social impressions, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Even pre-pandemic, esports were surging in popularity. Long quarantines and traditional sports droughts have only widened the tent.

“When other leagues had to shut down, you had gamers creating their own tournaments,” says Ryan Johnson SVP-group director, branded content, at RPA. “Quickly after, the major esports leagues got up and running, and you had NBA players playing live games. Now these worlds are all converging. Esports is sports.”

For advertisers, not only do these livestreams and broadcasts deliver a hard-to-reach-on-TV audience, but their communal nature creates an uber-engaged audience that presents an opportunity for brands to bake themselves into the experience and, in some cases, shape it in a way that isn’t possible in traditional TV.

“As a brand you can use a platform to have a live conversation,'' Herdman says. “That’s not something you can always do as an advertiser.”

Yet it seems there’s always a conversation to be had about the next “did you see that?” live moment.