Sports Marketers’ Guide to TV Audience Data (Part 1)

Often the biggest driver for a sponsor to enter into a sponsorship agreement is to raise brand awareness through exposure on TV. Broadcasts of live sporting events attract millions of viewers every week and for a sponsor, getting their brand in front of this audience can deliver millions of dollars worth of media value.

Yet, despite the importance of TV exposure, there is no common method of tracking, scrutinising, valuing or understanding audience data. Besides looking at total audiences or TV show ratings, sports marketers and sponsors rarely get their hands dirty with TV data which misses huge opportunities when selling, buying and activating a sponsorship.

I am certainly not an expert in TV audience data, there are many agencies and consultants that have built careers in this field but over the last four years I have spent a lot of time trying to understand and use audience metrics to support sponsorship sales and to help justify sponsorship spends. I have spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on research collecting data and seen millions of dollars spent because of this data.

Based on this experience, I will try and cover off some fundamentals about TV audience data and its use in sport, this is not exhaustive but hopefully a little useful. This article is Part 1 of a guide to TV audience data for sports marketers.

What is TV Audience Data?

Data collected on the number, location, demographics of people that watched a specific event or show on television.

Why so valuable?

To understand the value of TV audience data, you first have to understand why TV exposure through branding and logo placement in sports broadcasts is so important to sponsors. By investing in sponsorship that gets their logo on a sports kit/jersey or on sideline signage at a sports ground the benefits for sponsors are huge:

Passion – Fans believe in their sports teams and athletes and passionately care about them. Sponsors have the opportunity to associate their brand with a fans passion, show they have a common interest and demonstrate that their brand supports something that fans love.

In-game Advertising – In a world of Tivo, FoxTel and over-advertising, unless your event is the Super Bowl, the value of the traditional 30-second advert at half-time of a sports match has significantly decreased. People ignore or fast forward adverts and games get condensed into highlights packages were ads are removed completely. Sports allows sponsors to get their brand into the live action, into the highlights and into the minds of fans when they are cheering on their team.

Memorable Moments – The trophy wins, the great goals, the bad tackles, the red cards, the losses – fans remember and fans remember who they shared these moments with, whether it be friends, strangers or brands. Best of all when magic happens on the field the highlights, photos, YouTube videos, Facebook messages, Tweets, news reports and newspapers all capture these moments and the logos in the background. Great sporting moments are re-lived and remembered for generations.

Audience Fragmentation – The number of TV channels and shows is forever increasing and competition between broadcasters is fierce. Audiences become fragmented the more choice they are offered and few shows can unite and inspire audiences like sports can. Mass market, mass participation TV events like Grand Finals offer unique mass exposure.

How is this data collected?

So how do we know who watches what and when? The collection of TV audience data began in the 1950s when TV broadcasters used Mad-Men like advertising agencies to convince brands of the value of advertising around their TV shows. When thinking about how this data is collected there are several important points to note:

Panels – It is impossible to record what every person in a country is watching all the time, so TV audience data, like a lot of consumer or political research, is always modelled based on a panel. Households are invited to join a Research Panel that is constructed to be representative of the national population in terms of gender, demographics and location. By understanding the TV viewing habits of a representative panel and collecting viewing data from this panel we can extrapolate the data to give a regional, national or international view.

Log Books – Traditionally, each member of each household on the panel were given a log book to record how long they watched TV for each day, what they watched and how much of each TV show they watched. This data was then collated and aggregated. In the absence of a better solution, it worked. The Panel members were paid so did employ a certain level of diligence in their reporting, but can you remember how many minutes of Thursday’s Footy Show you and your three children watched? Technology has moved on in most countries, but in around 15 developing markets across the world, Audience Log Books are still used in capturing TV audience data. For example, Egypt is an important market in the Middle for advertisers but only moved from Log Books to Set-Top Audience Meters in 2011.

Set-Top Audience Meters – Today, each member of a Panel household is given an individual remote and must log into a set-top box when watching TV. The Audience Meter then tracks who is watching TV and what channel/show is being watched. The data is then electronically collated, analysed and sold to research agencies and TV broadcasters across the world. Set-Top meters are the gold standard in tracking TV audience data and are used in around 60 of the most developed advertising markets (countries) in the world.

Metered Markets – TV audience data is collected in approximately 80 markets (countries) globally. This data is collected either via set-top boxes or log books. These ‘Metered Markets’ represent around 95% of the world’s advertising spending, in fact the 55-60 set-top box markets represent close to 90% of the ad spend so most broadcasters and agencies simply use the electronic data (cheaper, more accurate, quicker). Using econometrics it is possible to ‘gross-up’ data from a smaller number of countries to get a truly global view.

“Channels Opt-In” – Just because set-top boxes are used in a country, does not mean that all channels will be tracked and have data available. This is important to know if your sport has a range of international TV rights deals such as the Premier League. Channels must pay and opt-in to be metered and have access to accurate audience data and channels will only do this if their audiences are substanital enough.

Demographics – Because the audience panel is representative of the national population, it is possible to capture the demographics of an audience for a particular show. This is invaluable information for advertisers and sponsors. Sponsors want to know the age, gender, location, income and socio-economic profile of fans watching your team.

Out of Home – Currently, TV audience data is only collected about in-home audiences. The Out-of-Home TV audience is very important for sport as groups often get together to watch major events on big screens, in stadiums or in pubs. In the past, I have used quantitate market research to measure out of home TV viewing habits around major sports events but this is normally excluded from most cited TV audience numbers. Out-of-Home audiences could add 10-50% to the audience for a sports broadcast.

Online – No accurate tracking takes place of online audiences for official and pirate online broadcasts of sport. This is a massive issue for the future of sports marketing and TV rights sales by sports organisations. For sponsors and rights holders this is an upside often not considered when valuing a sponsorship.

Part 2 and 3 of this guide to TV audience data for Sports Marketer, covering what type of TV audience is collected and how to use and utilise this data in sport will be published shortly.

3 thoughts on “Sports Marketers’ Guide to TV Audience Data (Part 1)

    1. Hi, it is an interesting development, because Sporting Codes like the NRL and AFL depend on the revenue they receive from Telstra for the mobile broadcast rights – at least $20m per year. I believe the Optus verdict, which is being challenged, will get overturned. Failing that the codes will work with Telstra to produce non-TV exclusive content e.g. different camera angles, better commentary etc. The verdict does make club sponsorship more valuable though as it increases the potential mobile audience of TV broadcasts and makes viewing sport easier for fans.


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