Oscars Live Stream Bug: Advertisers Are Stuck With TV's Streaming Glitches

Even With Lags and Other Problems, Marketers Want to Be 'Where the Ball Is Moving'

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Julianne Moore wins the Oscar for actress in a leading role her part in 'Still Alice.'
Julianne Moore wins the Oscar for actress in a leading role her part in 'Still Alice.' Credit: ABC

If you were trying to stream the Academy Awards from ABC's Watch app on Sunday night you may have unwillingly caught parts of the movie "The Social Network" instead. At points during the telecast, viewers reported ABC switching from the awards show to the David Fincher drama, causing them to miss out on some of the show and commercials.

This is now the second year in a row that ABC has experienced complications with the live stream of the awards show. During the 2014 telecast, the stream crashed before the Oscars even began due to a traffic overload.

While the problems upset viewers, who have come to expect access to big-event TV on connected devices at home and elsewhere, for some advertisers it's the risk they must take to ensure they reach their targets.

An ABC spokeswoman said a brief interruption occurred at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, with about 5% of online and mobile viewers temporarily served programming that aired the night before. The majority of those effected saw the alternate content for two minutes or less, according to the spokeswoman, who added that ABC is still working to identify the cause of the problem.

ABC isn't the only one struggling with live streams of big events. It's become somewhat commonplace during prominent TV programs for the live streams to lag, black out or crash altogether. There were delays of up to one minute during NBC's stream of Super Bowl XLIX last month and ESPN's live stream of the 2014 World Cup went on the fritz during a big match between the United States and Germany.

The hiccups are on marketers' minds when they cut deals with networks, but not enough to keep them away entirely. "It's too aggressive to say advertisers are pulling out of live streams due to these issues," said Christine Peterson, managing director-investment, Initiative. Many marketers feel the need to appear on these alternative platforms to stay relevant -- to capture younger viewers who don't watch traditional TV and gain experience for a future where more programming is delivered over the web.

Of course, come next year, Ms. Peterson said advertisers will be pressing ABC and other networks on the technology used to power these live streams -- and will ask for some assurances against glitches.

For T-Mobile, which was the only Super Bowl advertiser this year to create a commercial specifically to run in the live stream, it's worth the risk.

"We're focused on going where the ball is moving, which is online," Peter DeLuca, senior VP-brand and advertising, T-Mobile, said via email. "People, especially kids, are cutting the cord and watching on their iPads and phones … And while advertising during a live stream is always risky, as the un-carrier, we are all about taking risks in order to do things differently and reach more people in more ways."

Mr. DeLuca said T-Mobile will continue to create content specifically for live streams moving forward.

"The consumers are in charge and they are flocking to these platforms, so we need to be there," Ms. Peterson said.

There's been a meaningful increase in online viewing during major events, but an ABC spokeswoman said the network was still calculating ratings for the live stream as of Wednesday morning.

On TV, the Oscar telecast hit a six-year low.

The Super Bowl this year saw a bump in online viewership, with the stream averaging 800,000 viewers, up from 528,000 when the game aired on Fox in 2014, and peaking at 1.3 million simultaneous viewers.

Contributing: Mark Bergen

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