If you were part of the 100 million viewers who tuned in to CBS to watch the Super Bowl this year, ask yourself this: Who was the advertiser you saw the most? It’s likely that CBS definitely ranks high in your memory. Not only did CBS receive honors for having the highest-rated ad during the Super Bowl (its Person of Interest ad that aired at 10:31 p.m. EST won a household rating of 47.4, according to Kantar Media), but the network also significantly increased its advertising efforts since the Super Bowl of 2012, with 13 ads for its own programming between kickoff and the first half, compared to last year’s six. Considering that Super Bowl ads were going for about $4 million per 30-second spot, it’s interesting that CBS chose to promote its programming over the several million in direct revenue it could have earned from sponsor ads. But if you look at CBS’ decision beyond immediate ad dollars, you’ll start to wonder why more brands in online video aren’t following suit. Using tune-in ads for their own network, CBS tapped into a giant audience of captivated viewers (some of whom were watching just for the commercials); CBS was able to promote new and existing content, and beyond creating the ads, CBS didn’t have to pay for the extra exposure besides opportunity cost. When you have an engaged audience and the endless possibilities of digital video, why wouldn’t you use the chance to promote yourself?
Online publishers can take a tip from the television networks
TV networks have been capitalizing on tune-in ads for a while now (e.g., Fox, Spike, AMC, and CBS), and they wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t a payoff. CBS’ pay off may not have been immediate (its primetime lineup the following Monday had very little growth when compared with its recent Monday lineup of first-run episodes), but it sure left an impression on viewers who may not have been aware of their full programming lineup. Too bad I can’t watch The Job anymore due to its cancellation, but it certainly caught my eye. (I guess there aren't enough workplace enthusiasts like me out there.) And while there’s no guarantee of a direct correlation, a week after the Super Bowl, Nielsen ratings showed that CBS took 8 of the 10 top spots in ratings for the week ending on Sunday, February 10, knocking out Fox top-ranking shows from a few weeks back. CNBC is another example of a network that does tune-in advertising well. CNBC promotes its nighttime lineup branded “CNBC Prime” throughout the day to audiences who are glued to their screens for stock market news. This comes in the form of linear ads (video-based advertising) and non-linear ads (overlays at the bottom of the screen).
Other than the obvious benefit of advertising with little direct cost, riding the coattails of already popular content makes a lot of sense. So why does it seem that online publishers aren’t tapping in? Too often, ad spots online go unfilled. Unlike broadcasters and cable programmers who must fill advertising slots with ads, online publishers are letting good inventory go to waste by jumping directly to the content when they don’t have an ad. Instead of letting ad spots go empty, wouldn’t it make more sense to use some unsold inventory to encourage the user to stay tuned-in or come back later or visit another related section or property? Advertisers aren’t earning money anyway, so why shouldn’t they get the most out of the view and advertise themselves? Even when they do have enough advertisements to serve during the videos, they should also consider including their own ads in the mix, beyond just the simple bumper.
Use tune-in to promote your cross-platform presence
Tune-in ads can be especially helpful for cross-platform promotions. In the case of television meets internet, if someone on Fox’s website is watching American Idol clips, the network has an option to either earn revenue running a preroll for Coke or to capture a new viewer for Glee on television by running a tune-in ad. Fox already knows the viewer enjoys musical content, and American Idol and Glee aren’t that far off from each other. Yes, Fox might miss out on the initial ad revenue, but building up their audience base for other shows will generate more money down the road. AMC (the cable channel) also seems to understand the value of self promotion. Before I could watch a behind-the-scenes clip for The Walking Dead on its website, I enjoyed an AMC preroll for The Walking Dead video game. I didn’t know there was a video game based on the show, and I’m sure a lot of others who came across that preroll didn’t, either. Sure, AMC didn’t get the money they would have by running a sponsor’s ad, but they will reap delayed benefits when people purchase or buzz about the video game. I’m not implying that publishers should be just like CBS during the Super Bowl and be constantly promoting themselves. Staying revenue positive should always be your first priority, but publishers should also include themselves in promotional mix, especially if they have a presence on multiple platforms.
Rewards worth waiting for
Video is a very lucrative media channel, and publishers should use tune-in advertising at every touch point possible to drive more video viewership. Even when the benefits aren’t always immediate, tune-in ads can significantly reinforce your publishing property and brand. Make sure that the next time your audience is considering watching content – whatever the category – they think of you. This is especially relevant for those publishers who are frequented by search-engine audiences (audiences who end up on your site because they were searching for news, travel tips, recipes, etc.) because they may not have encountered you otherwise. Understandably, today’s video advertising is already difficult to manage, but if there is one more lesson that digital video can adopt from television, it is self-promoting through tune-in advertising.