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Volume 23 No. 13
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Ad buyer: Direct-to-consumer platforms short on viewer data

Some ad buyers complain that sites such as ESPN+ only reference their number of subscribers instead of how many actually watch specific events.
Photo: Getty Images
Some ad buyers complain that sites such as ESPN+ only reference their number of subscribers instead of how many actually watch specific events.
Photo: Getty Images
Some ad buyers complain that sites such as ESPN+ only reference their number of subscribers instead of how many actually watch specific events.
Photo: Getty Images

Direct-to-consumer platforms have long promised advertisers much more specific information about who is watching an event than what linear television provides. The reality is that advertisers are getting much less, according to one of the most prominent ad buyers in the business.

 

Advertisers practically salivate at the idea of using detailed viewer information to target ads to specific consumers. But instead of getting that information from media companies for direct-to-consumer platforms, in some cases the advertisers don’t even know how many people are watching.

“We’ve been pushing them, but it’s a dark hole,” Adam Schwartz, Horizon Media’s senior vice president and director of sports media, said recently on a National Association of Broadcasters panel in New York.

Schwartz, who buys advertising packages for some of the biggest brands in the business, including Geico, Sprint, Capital One, Burger King and Corona, specifically referenced being frustrated by UFC streams on ESPN+. Rather than provide advertisers with the number of people who watched the fight, ESPN+ provides an overall number of ESPN+ subscribers, which last week was pegged at 3.5 million.

“That’s great, but it doesn’t tell me who’s watching the fight,” Schwartz said. “We did a UFC corporate deal that started before the ESPN+ relationship where we were promised a specific amount of viewers. That’s where the challenge comes in.”

Schwartz would not identify the specific UFC sponsor. Horizon arrives at a viewership number by looking at how similar fights rated on FS1 and makes a guess based on the overall subscriber base.

“But when someone is pitching it to an old-school CMO who wants to know how many viewers are watching it, it becomes a little bit tricky,” he said. “We have a lot of other information from the other touch points that UFC goes through. But this is a big one, and we expect it to continue to grow. We just want a little bit more transparency there. They’re seeing results based on UFC as a whole. It’s just difficult to actually make sure that those are coming from the ESPN+ platform.”

It’s not just ESPN+. Schwartz also referenced the DAZN streaming service that touts an overall subscriber figure rather than specific viewer numbers.

“It becomes a challenge for the advertiser because now we’re taking more of a leap of faith based on numbers that they are not releasing to the advertiser,” Schwartz said.

When media consultant Chris Bevilacqua, who was on the same panel, asked whether advertisers would pay more for targeted ads, Schwartz answered emphatically.

“Absolutely. That idea makes perfect sense. That’s exactly what we’re looking for. It’s just that in the deals that we’re doing with them now, we’re getting absolutely nothing.”

A source at one of the direct-to-consumer services admitted that they don’t share specific game ratings, at least not yet. The source suggested that could change if the advertisers pull their money because of it.

This issue will become more pronounced as more over-the-top sports rights are sold to media companies. Another panel participant, Sports Media Advisors’ Doug Perlman, said the streaming market still is in its infancy, which is causing issues like this to fester.

“The most common issue that comes up when we’re doing rights negotiations is the balance of revenue versus exposure,” he said. “The outlets that will give you the greatest reach are often the ones that are going to pay you less. And the outlets that have less reach and are trying to secure your rights to grow your platform will often pay a significant premium for those rights. Properties that go for those dollars have to be very careful about the long-term implications for their fan bases.”