Will Twitter-Audience Measurement Help Sports Shine?

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and other social-media platforms continue to be a treasure trove for those looking to discuss sports. A report in the New York Times last week stated that sports-related posts account for upwards of 50% of social-media traffic. So it’s no surprise that companies like CBS late last month became part of Twitter’s Amplify advertising program just in time for next Monday, when Nielsen will begin publishing Twitter TV Ratings so that the industry can measure unique tweets about a specific program. Amplify allows CBS to embed video clips from a wide variety of its shows in its tweets, and the clips are tied to short advertisements.

“We’re excited about it for a lot of reasons, as, to us, the second screen and social media enhance the broadcast, not only for fans but for advertisers. It’s a huge opportunity,” says Patty Hirsch, VP/GM, CBS Interactive Advanced Media. “There is a lot of interest already.”

The steps by CBS and Twitter are the latest in a maturation process that will continue to allow social media to transform into a real business driving real revenues.

“No one has been great at monetizing social media,” adds Hirsch. “Bringing measurement allows us to do that and build great user experiences.”

Marla Newman, SVP, sales, Fox Sports Digital, notes that social media is now ubiquitous with all the network’s programs and has become a critical part of the relationship with viewers.

“Advertisers want to put social media in their core,” she says, pointing to the success Fox NFL analyst Mike Pereira has found using Twitter as a way to have fans ask him questions in real time.

The challenge now is that many of the advertising agencies are still split, with different teams handling social-media sales and TV sales. That makes it difficult to have true integration: fully synchronized first- and second-screen experiences with, for example, a commercial on the TV synched with second-screen content and enhancing the marketing message — an experience that truly demonstrates value for all involved.

“They will come together, and they have to because the margins are so small,” says Peter Scott, VP, emerging media, Turner Sports. “And social media will fuel that.”

While those business issues get sorted out, social-media integration — and the second-screen experience —  will remain an absolute must for all properties, says Eric Black, VP, technology, NBC Sports & Olympics. And technical issues, like authentication, continue to be sorted out as well. NBC’s first stab at authentication was still in the maturing process during the Beijing Olympics, and, two years later, the Vancouver Games authentication experience took a lot of heat, much of it because the cable companies were caught off-guard by the interest. But, two years after that, at the London Olympics, the authentication process was smoothed out, and live streaming of the Olympics not only did not detract from TV viewership but, instead, grew it.

“It drove viewers to primetime as the live streaming did not have NBC production values, so they wanted to see how we covered it and what Bob Costas had to say,” says Black. “Social media is ultimately complementary.”

NBC viewers get the second-screen experience. The current English Premier League season is broadcast on the NBC Sports Network and online, and rabid fans are watching as many as six matches in a row online.

March Madness coverage online is another example of the growing role the second screen can play in enhancing the first. Video highlights were pushed to the hashtag #marchmadness, where five-second pre-roll videos and tune-in information could be delivered to fans alongside the highlight.

“Twitter is powerful around an event but not for a long-term season,” says Scott. “For that, we turn to Facebook, where users text back and forth. But both are front and center on our never.no and Mass Relevance platforms to stimulate the conversation.”

Regional networks are also making use of social media to drive viewership and promote upcoming programs. Michael Spirito, VP, business development and digital media, YES Network, says the network is very active in the social space but remains the only U.S.-based regional network to offer in-market streaming of MLB games (the Toronto Blue Jays are available in Canada).

“We thought there would be more of an uptake on a team-by-team basis, but we’re still the only ones doing it,” he adds.

The inability of other regional networks and MLB teams to roll out in-market streaming points to one of the remaining barriers to sports-fan nirvana: concern over TV ratings. But, with broadband connectivity becoming more capable of delivering a consistent viewing experience, a new concern may be blossoming: the role companies like Apple, Google, or Yahoo! could play in future sports-rights negotiations.

“The leagues are in the driver’s seat as they have the content,” says Scott. “And, in the next NFL-rights deal, they might partner with Apple or Yahoo! the way Fox did 30 years ago.”

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