4 Digital Platforms Marketers Must Watch During March Madness

Hal Conick
Marketing News Weekly
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Key Takeaways
​What? Millions watch the NCAA men's basketball tournament each year. This year, there are more digital platforms available for viewers than ever. 

So What? In 2014, advertisers spent in excess of $1.1 billion on TV spots. How can marketers and advertisers reach audiences via these new devices?

Now What? As always, thinking "mobile-first" is a must, but marketers may want to think about what's next in their digital marketing world. While moving into virtual reality this year may not be possible, it may be prudent to discuss how the technology will be utilized in the future. 

March 15, 2016

The games have gone beyond the TV, as March Madness will be broadcast on 12 different platforms this year. How can marketers get involved with these innovative ways of watching hoops?​

March Madness makes superstars. Over the years, players like Bill Walton, Anthony Davis, Christian Laettner, and Lew Alcindor​ (and his sweet skyhook) went from well-known college students to household names after storming through the tournament.

It’s no wonder, as the NCAA reported that the 2015 viewership was 11.3 million viewers per game. Kantar Media reported last year that during the 2014 NCAA men’s tournament, advertisers spent $1.13 billion over the course of 67 games​

Now, advertisers and marketers may be able to get even closer to fans. New technology has allowed fans to experience the tournament in brand new ways, thereby allowing marketers to experiment with new ways of reaching consumers. 

Fans can view games on 12 different platforms this year, which might mean something as simple as turning on your TV or something as futuristic as strapping on a virtual reality headset.  

How can marketers tap into these new digital markets? Here are four innovative ways fans can watch the tourney and what they mean for marketers.

1. Virtual Reality

This year, NextVR, a virtual reality platform, has been broadcasting the entire 2016 Big East Tournament after the company agreed to a partnership with FOX Sports. But, can marketers see some wins from buying ad space here, or is the format still too new?

Tom Szirtes, director at Mbryonic, a design and development company for virtual reality, says most virtual reality is still in somewhat of an experimental stage and what marketers get out of is “PR, essentially.” Marketing via virtual reality is likely reserved for bigger companies with money to spend or smaller companies who want to get in early and impress.

“When you’re talking about marketers reaching an audience, we’re still in way early days in terms of actually having an addressable market,” he says. “That’s just how it is today. If you ask me again in six to 12 months’ time, things may ch​​ange.”

While Szirtes believes virtual reality marketing may be limited for now, he does see the technology (and therefore, the marketing) catching on In the near future. He believes two years down the line there will be a “real, addressable market out there.” Within five years, Szirtes believes virtual reality will change the way people consume content.

“There are lots of great reasons why you might want to use virtual reality as a marketer,” he says. “You’re creating a very immersive experience with the headset. You have users’ attention 100% with no distractions. They’re completely yours. It’s not something you can say with a lot of other advertising and marketing.”

Lisa Buckley, senior vice president at VaynerMedia, a full-service digital marketing agency, is a bit more bullish on the medium, saying that the sooner brands can make this emerging technology part of their DNA, the better. 

“Those brands can then be ready to mobilize instead of it being an afterthought to their creative development and channel planning,” she said. “Importantly, scale in virtual reality will be an important question for many brands looking to enter the space. Ultimately, since it's a new space, brands have the opportunity to learn and fail fast in the virtual reality world."

​2. Snapchat

Snapchat will make its debut appearance on the NCAA March Madness landscape this year, as the app reached a deal with Turner Sports. It will feature "behind-the-scenes of the biggest plays, sideline moments, (and) teams,” Snapchat said, as well as vertical video ads from Turner Sports. 

How valuable can these ads be?

According to Snapchat’s ad site, more than 60% of 13-to-34 year old smartphone users in the U.S. are on Snapchat. The here-today-gone-tomorrow video/photo app boasts 7 billion video views every day with more than 100 million daily active users. This is likely titillating for marketers, as it brings them directly to the consumer’s device 

Buckley that if brands are planning March Madness activations on other social media channels, it makes sense to be on Snapchat as well. 

“Turner has a built-in audience, but brands can also develop their own Snapchat stories on the platform or sponsor and create their own geo-filters as part of their storytelling efforts,” she says.

However, since March Madness Live stories are part of Snapchat’s Partner Stories and associated with a high profile event, she said they will likely be “priced at the premium level.”  

3. Smartphone or Tablet

Thinking and advertising with a mobile-first mindset is the most important thing for marketers to be doing, Buckley says. A big event like this may be an opportunity to capitalize on the gigantic number of viewers and where their attention lies. 

“Mobile is where the consumer's attention is,” she says. “Think about how many times a day you look at your phone and various social media platforms. Social media is frequently utilized on smartphones and tablets. One out of every five minutes of smartphone usage is reportedly spent on Facebook and/or Instagram alone.”

Unlike targeting on Snapchat, she said targeting capabilities on platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest can be very robust.

4. Streaming Media Player 

Turner Sports said there are plenty of options to watch these games via streaming services as well, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, and other Smart TV models. 

In addition, there is also a March Madness Live app and games broadcast on CBS will be available to stream for free on tablets, mobile and desktop computers. 

However, this is a crowded area for marketers and advertisers. John Bogusz, executive vice president for sports ad sales at CBS, told BroadcastingCable.com that they had sold out of both TV and digital ads by early March. Digital revenues are up 20% for Turner Sports, according to what Jon Diament, executive vice president of ad sales for Turner Sports, told the website, so the demand has been very strong on these other streaming platforms. 

Author Bio:

Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.
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