Fox Sports is doing away with the commercial break. In its place, the broadcaster is airing ‘commercial-free breaks,’ segments of analysis sponsored by T-Mobile. The phone network’s logo adorns the entire segment, it’s ‘brought to you by T-Mobile’ and the break ended with what Digiday called ‘a 30-second live read about the T-Mobile One campaign.’ The move is a novel one and is part of a wider reimagining of TV advertising, one that takes inspiration from the progression of digital marketing and new methods of customer engagement.
TV remains an incredibly effective advertising platform for those that can afford to appear on major networks. In terms of engagement, though, native advertising in broadcasting makes a great deal of sense. Many people will sit through an ad break during a sporting event and patiently take in the ads, but Ad breaks in sport are the time for grabbing a drink, discussing the game, going to the toilet, etc - genuine engagement in ads for conventional sports broadcasts is low. Second screen usage - some 87% of consumers use a second device whilst watching TV - contributes to the problem, making it incredibly easy for viewers to switch off and wait for the break to be over. Analysis, on the other hand, is why many sports viewers watch on their preferred networks.
The argument for native advertising in TV is the same as for native advertising elsewhere - consumers expect brands to provide valuable content rather than explicitly pushing a sale. Good native content will be just as engaging as the content audiences love, with the brand message underpinning but not overpowering it. If audiences were offered ostensibly ad-free breaks in games, with a short branded message following a segment of branded analysis, they’d take it. Branding in sports is so overwhelmingly prevalent that fans have come to accept it. Essentially, though the explicit message at the end of the segment may be jarring, branded ‘ad-free’ breaks would upset very few viewers.
‘There are so many different ways to see content today and more constraints on people’s time than ever before,’ said Mike Denby, SVP of ad sales at Fox Sports. ‘It’s important for brands to see how they can break out of the clutter, give the viewer something fresh and in this case, T-Mobile found a unique way to do that.’
It’s not yet clear how much T-Mobile has been charged for the endorsement, and it’ll take time for the true value of branded breaks to become apparent. ’It’s definitely something we would consider as long as it does not require us paying for the entire break,’ said Adam Schwartz, director of national broadcast for sports media at Horizon Media. ‘If our logo is up there for two-and-a-half minutes, that’s worth X. The live read is worth Y. From that, we would determine what we’re willing to pay for, and all of that is based on the value of the regular 30-second exposure.’
The shift extends further than sports, too. Turner, for example, ‘is looking to turn its TV networks into one big platform for native advertising,’ according to AdvertisingAge. Instead of airing short slots during a program in the traditional ad format, Turner will run longer branded content - up to two or three minutes - for a ‘less interruptive’ experience for consumers and a ‘more powerful’ one for brands, according to Dan Riess, head of content partnerships at the broadcaster.
The trend is also reflected on social media - Facebook expects mobile traffic to be 75% video by 2020, offering brands the opportunity for their native content to be widely seen - as well as in the branded articles made necessary by ad blocking software. No one is suggesting the ad break will disappear, it’s far too effective for that. A reimagining, though, could make the viewing experience better whilst encouraging engagement otherwise difficult to garner, a win for both consumer and brand.