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How streaming is changing the game for live sports and advertisers

A bright turquoise colored foam finger presses the center button of a streaming service remote control.

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Shutterstock / The Current

A few short years ago, buying ad space during a live sports event typically meant a traditional direct deal.

But the surplus of streaming options, and a recent shift of live sports to the channel, is paving the way for innovations in how advertisers reach viewers.

A rush of streaming sports partnerships in recent months has opened the floodgates for advertisers and platforms to test, learn from and revise programmatic strategies.

That and more is what advertisers like Samsung, and streamers like Disney and NBCUniversal’s Peacock, discussed on The Times Center stage in New York this week during Forward ’24. Hosted by The Trade Desk, the event highlighted how key industry players are meeting the moment in which so much TV programming and ad inventory is moving to streaming platforms. The convergence of live sports and connected TV (CTV) in particular sparked new insights into the space.

John Alleva, EVP of platform monetization at NBCUniversal, echoed just how new live sports are to streaming. During a panel, he noted that NBCUniversal has invested heavily in programmatic in recent years to become more addressable and automatic.

“And the results have been great; we’ve more than doubled the amount of advertisers in our programmatic live events,” he said. “And so we want to continue that, because we get to diversify the client base then. It’s not only a better consumer product but also better for our clients.”

Forward '24 event hosted by The Trade Desk featuring three individuals talking in chairs in front of a screen.
From left to right: VP of Inventory Development at The Trade Desk Verna De Jesus (moderator), EVP of Platform Monetization at NBCUniversal John Alleva and Head of Digital Marketing at Samsung Mobile Jaclyn Wyatt.

Programmatic gets results

Programmatic advertising can allow brands to flex their creative muscles in ways they may not have been able to before: diving deeper into what consumers are interested in, tailoring marketing campaigns for data-driven outcomes and reaching consumers in real time where they’re most engaged.

Jaclyn Wyatt, head of digital marketing at Samsung Global, expressed how essential that can be in front of the highly engaged audiences of live sports.

“What’s exciting about programmatic is that we’re living in a marketer’s dream,” Wyatt said. “I can tell the right story to the right audience during live sports, when their eyes are watching.”

Marketers can “let the data answer” when it comes to determining what type of creative will work with viewers.

She had the receipts, too, noting that Samsung improved its digital audience reach by 33% after it started buying live sports programmatically, with a nearly $4 return on ad spend.

But anyone who watched this year’s Super Bowl — only the second in its 58-year history to go into overtime — knows how unpredictable live sports can be.

“We’re continuing to learn in this space because live sports programmatic is so new, but one of the first things that we learned is that you can’t really time the sports marketplace,” Alleva said. “And so the way to prepare for it is to have a specific and customized sports strategy with our clients to really take advantage of what could be a really large audience in a very short period of time.”

Alleva mentioned another example: On Feb. 15, Caitlin Clark broke the NCAA women’s college basketball scoring record — during a Peacock-exclusive game.

“The clients that were prepared were able to take advantage of all that incremental audience and reach that happened from that game,” Alleva said.

Live sports and streaming will continue to converge

Recent months have been particularly fruitful for streamers and advertisers looking to learn from and develop their programmatic prowess.

The Super Bowl earlier this month was the most-watched TV telecast of all time, the most-streamed Super Bowl ever on Paramount+. Before that, this season’s NFL playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins on Peacock — the first playoff game to air exclusively on a streaming service — was the most-streamed event ever in the U.S. and boosted Peacock subscriptions.

The results might explain why streaming players are ramping up their sports streaming businesses. Warner Bros. Discovery, Fox and Disney’s ESPN recently said they will launch a joint streaming platform dedicated to sports. Additionally, ESPN will launch a stand-alone service next year for all its own programming. And Olympics enthusiasts can watch the games live on Peacock this summer.

Alleva is excited to continue learning and collaborating as live sports grows in the streaming space.

“We don’t just set up an NFL deal and leave it and come back at the end of the season,” he said. “It’s a week-to-week process with all our partners to try to make sure that we’re optimizing to our full potential.”

He added, “I think that’s the key going forward, is just continuing to collaborate and work together day in and day out, trying to drive meaningful results in live sports.”

The Current is owned and operated by The Trade Desk, Inc.