Super Bowl

Why Was T-Mobile the Only Super Bowl Advertiser to Make a Different Ad for the Live Stream?

Despite Different Demographics and Interactive Capabilities

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T-Mobile is the only Super Bowl advertiser that took NBC up on the chance to show a different commercial to viewers live streaming the game instead of watching on TV.

The fourth-biggest U.S. wireless carrier, known for criticizing its bigger competitors, is going to show online viewers an ad featuring comedian Rob Riggle promoting its data rollover plans. Meanwhile, television viewers will see reality-TV celebrity Kim Kardashian plug the data plans. The bigger difference: the live-stream ad lets T-Mobile prompt viewers to immediately tweet or go to the brand's Facebook page.

The web audience for TV's biggest annual event is small but growing, and significant enough for NBC to reel in at least $10 million in online ad sales for the game, according to Seth Winter, execVP of sales and marketing at NBC Sports Group.

For advertisers, a customized online ad may reach a younger audience and increase the chances that viewers will share the commercial on social media or visit a brand's website. But the investment to create a separate ad has to be weighed against the far fewer people it will reach.

"You can't expect to put the same amount of revenue into something that delivers far, far less eyeballs because most people will be watching the game on the NBC television network rather than the stream," Mr. Winter said on a call with reporters this week.

The game draws more than 100 million TV viewers, the biggest U.S. audience of the year and a magnet for ambitious, eye-catching ads that marketers use to make a big splash. A successful Super Bowl ad will keep people talking about it for days or even weeks -- in person and on social media. Online, NBC had 2 million viewers in 2012 and CBS drew about 3 million the next year. Last year, Fox said it had 528,000 viewers per minute.

Only the 70 or so advertisers buying a TV spot were allowed access to the live-stream event, which had capacity for 18 of them, according to Winter. All but T-Mobile opted to just repeat the same commercial from TV in the online stream.

T-Mobile's online ad features Mr. Riggle with a vulture on his shoulder in a bit to promote how T-Mobile allows its customers to roll over their unused wireless data. At the end, the ad prompts users to tweet under the hashtag #DataStash or go to T-Mobile's Facebook page or website.

"When you watch the game on TV, it's not interactive," said Will Richmond, who publishes the blog VideoNuze.com about the online video industry. "But if you watch the game on a desktop or tablet, advertisers can prompt certain types of engagement."

NBC touts research that shows Web video ads extend an advertiser's reach and that online viewers have greater brand recall. So why is T-Mobile the only advertiser going out of its way to cater to the younger, streaming set?

Because, if history is any guide, the live stream will only attract a few million viewers -- a tiny fraction of the number expected to tune in to NBC on TV.

Despite the smaller audience, NBC's Winter said its online ads sold out and digital ad revenue for this year's Super Bowl was "eight figures." That's almost triple the amount of revenue from digital sales in 2012 when the network last carried the game, he said.

The decision by many Super Bowl advertisers not to create a unique commercial for streaming viewers is a missed opportunity, said Jonathan Taplin, director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. Mr. Taplin said online video platforms like Hulu and YouTube allow viewers of an ad to click on the screen and be taken directly to the brand's website, leading to greater sales.

"That ability to marry the transactional and advertising is pretty powerful," he said. "It's obviously where the future of advertising is going."

But for now, not enough people are opting to watch the live stream of the Super Bowl to make it worth most brands' time and money to create a unique online commercial.

~ Bloomberg News ~

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