Guy Rancourt, VP of Media May 14, 2020 I miss sports – both personally and professionally – and I know I’m not alone. Those sentiments are echoed in conversations almost as frequently as you hear people say they miss seeing friends or just going out to eat. An unintentional consequence of COVID-19 is the realization of how much sports powers the advertising world. The absence of sports has thrown our marketing ecosystem into flux, and the ripple effect of canceling major sporting events is being felt across all mediums and all categories. In the short term, the loss of linear GRP’s, digital impressions and multi-platform marketing opportunities, not to mention the amount of unspent dollars freed up with these cancellations, is staggering. Countless marketers rely on the scale and platforms that events like the NCAA Tournament, professional sports seasons and the Olympics provide in order to showcase, launch and sustain their businesses. Removing these from the marketing equation is proving to be troublesome for many brands and agencies. Countless conversations, spreadsheets, flowcharts, meetings and revisions – all culminating in media plans of which sports play a major role. Poof! Gone. All for naught. But when they eventually come back this fall, what does that mean for the marketplace? It should be good news for brands and agencies. Many events have already been stricken from the 2020 calendar: the NCAA Tournament, Wimbledon, Tokyo Summer Olympics and The British Open, to name a few. While others have been postponed until later this summer and fall – NBA Basketball, NHL Hockey, Major League Baseball, The Masters, French Open, Kentucky Derby – many more still wait for their fates to be determined. As the leagues and television partners continue their weekly dialogues around how and when they can resume play, there are countless rumors swirling about how each of them will land the plane: Playing the NBA season at Disney World Pushing the college football season to the spring of 2021 Sequester all MLB teams and staffs in Arizona and Florida Eliminate NFL bye weeks to squeeze in games in the event of a delay While all of these options are up for consideration, they’re merely speculative solves until the country gets a handle on the Coronavirus. But the point here is that they are all working on solutions to resume play. Each already has mapped out countless scenarios and contingency plans to employ, once they are given the all-clear, in an effort to save their seasons. And they may all come back around the same time later this summer and into the fall. Clearly, there are more grave and consequential things going on in the world, so I do not highlight the lack of sports as the most pressing of challenges facing us. But make no mistake – the removal of sports has turned the marketing world on its head. According to Bloomberg, more than $2.5 billion dollars have been removed from the market this year already. That’s billion, with a B. We’re undoubtedly headed for a recession as businesses try to recover later this year and into next. We also know that production schedules for scripted entertainment will be impacted, causing delays in original programming. This will mostly affect prime time as their pilot season has been impacted the most – and who wants to invest heavily in what could be a light schedule of first-run scripted content this fall? As such, many are speculating that the sports marketplace will be flush with cash as the logical landing spot for all of those budgets. Another sellers’ market? Consider this: the back half sports schedule will be very condensed when all of these sports return. Imagine this very real scenario on November 15th: Sunday final of The Masters, followed by a National NFL window that then leads right into a World Series Game and Sunday Night Football. Talk about feast or famine. The point I’m making is that there should be a concentration of premium sports impressions in a tight window. Will there really be enough demand for this glut of sports GRP’s? Our industry is quick to say that sports – and football in particular – are mostly immune to market fluctuations. But can Madison Avenue afford to fund all of these hungry mouths this fall? I say no, and I think brands and agencies are in store for one of the softest sports marketplaces in a long time. Even the mighty NFL shield could see dents in the armor for the first time in a long time.
Guy Rancourt, VP of Media April 23, 2020 As we all continue to adjust to the new normal, it’s fair to speculate on what the future holds for the video landscape. It’s no surprise that with most of the country confined to their homes that media consumption is up across the board – especially in linear TV and OTT. But what will these changes mean long term? As audiences are in home-confinement, they have ample time on their hands to explore all their media options. In fact, they have no choice but to fill the hours- social, streaming, television and online media usage are peaking. It’s forcing people to delve deeper into their entertainment ecosystem. It’s exposing them to linear channels and streaming platforms that, 30 days ago, were not on their radar (I even found myself watching ‘I Survived’ on something called The Justice Network). And it’s growing consumption across both paid and free OTT platforms, exposing audiences to new sources of video content. Across demos, the biggest spikes in usage are among the younger demographics, which stands to reason when you consider that they were the segment consuming the least video content prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. In fact, the average viewer is spending over than an hour more per day with the television screen (5+ hours). It’s naïve to think that the COVID-induced spikes in viewership will sustain. Hopes for maintaining the ratings bumps we are experiencing now, or even the high viewership among streaming services are not practical. Levels will naturally diminish as Americans return to work and leave their homes again. Without a doubt, the ratings increases in linear are a welcome sight after years of declines, but they are unlikely to maintain the growth given: Lack of production during the stay-at-home restrictions. New season programming, particularly in primetime, will not be ready, turning viewers away when they expect new content in the fall. The trends that were present prior to the Coronavirus outbreak (audience fragmentation, linear erosion) will not be reversed, even with the massive impact a crisis of this magnitude causes. Will we see a ‘new normal’ of social distancing take effect after we get the all clear? Or quite the opposite- where everyone embraces the opportunity to be outside. At restaurants, the movies, the beach or just hosting get-togethers again after being denied those long-lost indulgences. Either way, they’ll be hungry for good content, as they have always been. They just might be gravitating more towards alternative sources when we emerge on the other side. All of this can only bode well for streaming services that were already on the rise pre-COVID and will likely accelerate adoption and usage. So, the need to diversify media mixes will only become more apparent and more necessary. Audiences will not abandon linear- so that will continue to be a valuable reach vehicle, integral to media mixes. But marketers need to recognize that a larger swath of the population will surely have sampled and grown used to a heavier dose of streaming video into their regular habits. Between Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, Quibi, Peacock, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, not to mention free services like Pluto TV, Crackle, Tubi, etc. – they’ve never been pulled in so many directions before. Meanwhile more services are on the way from AT&T, Comcast, ViacomCBS and Discovery. Consumers are customizing their media consumption: on their terms, with the content they want to view, when they want to view it. And it makes sense for brands and agencies to follow suit.