Back of the net

Over the past couple of weeks, weve been running content from our recently-published Programmatic Handbook. Here, Ryan Skeggs, general manager of GiveMeSport, reflects on the past year, and explains how programmatic and VR are offering advertisers new ways to engage with sports fans.

2018 was another amazing year in sport. There was a plethora of events offering advertisers opportunities to engage with fans, such as the Winter Olympics, the Fifa World Cup, the Ryder Cup, Wimbledon, the Masters and F1, to name a few. What we noticed as the year progressed was an increased appetite from our advertisers to buy event packages and execute utilising programmatic guarantee (PG) deals.

To give some context, in 2017, 5–10 per cent of our inventory was bought via PG around events, versus 73 per cent of our event inventory shifting to PG in 2018. This demonstrated what we already knew: that sport is a fantastic area to work in. It has a highly engaged, emotive audience that advertisers can reach in a brand-safe environment. Add to that a rise in contextual targeting, which it’s my firm belief came about due to GDPR, and it’s clear that sport was – and will continue to be – a real winner.

A whole new ball game
From an industry point of view, there were two marquee events that come around every four years which grabbed my interest in 2018. Both the Winter Olympics and the Fifa World Cup were broadcast via virtual reality (VR) for the first time. Modern sports fans were excited and salivating at the prospect of getting closer than ever before to the action, teams, stars and stats. Both events gave us a glimpse into the future fan experience and perhaps the advertising opportunities that could come about with this new viewing platform.

VR has the potential to offer an unparalleled fan experience. However, it was evident this year that we are not quite ready to switch from screen-based 2D viewing just yet! With all its promises of being more immersive and offering unique viewing options, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. However, the various VR activations this year did give us fans and industry bods an inkling as to what we can expect in the future from this embryotic tech.

A novel programmatic offering
For VR and programmatic to work in live sport and on demand requires speed, scale, simplicity, data and technology. There is a major development which will assist with speed of delivery and of processing data: the introduction of 5G across 16 major UK cities in 2019. 5G will enable broadcasters to offer a minimum standard for speed, and to cover more camera angles, matches and players. This will reduce the lethargic viewing experiences we sometimes saw with both the Winter Olympics and the World Cup.

To scale VR and drum up interest among advertisers, broadcasters and franchises need to ensure the experience is far superior to the 2D alternative. Advertisers must be hoping this nascent form of media consumption becomes more mainstream, as the potential to interact and engage with consumers will be taken to a whole new level.

There are obvious programmatic media buys, such as CTV, which I can see slipping into VR seamlessly. What is really exciting is the raft of new potential programmatic executions.

In the virtual world we could have the capability to sell programmatic placements from shirt sponsorship positions, advertising hoardings, camera views, social placements, clock, replay and seats – all of which could be bought via programmatic channels. We’d have the data and the scale across live events and on demand, the speed from 5G, the technology enhancements, and hopefully, with the latter, a simple execution model.

From gimmick to game-changer
For all the excitement around VR, brands should approach this area with caution. Despite the investment, experimentation and buzz around this undoubtedly progressive tech, there are a few challenges blocking fan adoption. First, the accessibility of VR, which is mainly driven by price. Second the design: we all want to look good, but it’s hard with a lunchbox attached to your head. Last, the amount of quality content built for this platform and the network infrastructure to enable it are still limited.

Having said all of this, it is my firm belief that VR in sport will move from being a gimmick to mainstream over the next three to five years. It is inevitable that the hardware for VR will become less clunky and more accessible, hopefully meaning there’ll be a new programmatic medium on the block. 2019 will be another highly anticipated year on and off the pitch, court or circuit. I, for one, can’t wait!

You can read the entire Programmatic Handbook online here