The control room at Sportsnet is a fast-moving place. The long-standing broadcast convention of instant replays means that, during National Hockey League games, a team must be ready to assemble clips of the action as it happens. Starting during the Toronto Maple Leafs game on Monday night, when goals are scored, the control room won't be just packaging clips for their own broadcast; it'll also be making ads.
Rogers Communications Inc., which has been working to leverage the NHL rights it paid $5.2-billion for two years ago, is launching an experimental advertising campaign in partnership with Google Inc. Online ad space will be bought through automated exchanges, known as "programmatic" advertising, but in addition to placing the ads in real time, in a global first, the broadcaster will also be working with Google to create them in real time.
The ads will be promoting Rogers NHL GameCentre Live, a digital subscription service that allows Rogers customers to watch streaming hockey games on their phones, tablets and computers, including NHL games not broadcast on TV in the customer's region.
For the next month or two, during NHL games the ads will appear online, targeted to Web users who are sports fans, based on data such as their online activity. When a goal happens, Rogers will upload instant replay footage via a private YouTube link; Google will grab that footage and slot it into an already-produced ad that says, "See the goal you just missed."
Using real-time bidding, the ads will be placed under parameters targeting likely sports fans, particularly fans of a team who do not live in the team's market. The ads will be up online in a matter of minutes after a goal happens.
The automated buying and selling of ads is growing in importance for marketers looking for more efficient ways to find the right targets for their digital campaigns. This type of bidding is expected to account for more than 50 per cent of all digital advertising spending by next year, according to research firm eMarketer. Google Canada has seen the volume of programmatic transactions increase by 75 per cent in the past year.
"It's a strategic part of our media buying philosophy," said Livia Zufferli, senior vice-president of brand at Rogers. "… The ability to deliver very compelling creative content to our customers and prospective customers is a really powerful technique. Given the breadth of content and assets that the Rogers team has at its disposal, this will be a very interesting test for us."
The campaign was devised with Google's Art, Copy & Code program, which is designed to attract deeper ties with advertisers (and a larger chunk of their advertising revenue) by partnering on experiments that use Google's technology to experiment with new ad tactics. It has previously done campaigns with brands such as Nike, Electronic Arts and Burberry.
This is the first time Google has ever helped to produce an ad campaign with footage from YouTube of action that has just taken place.
"We really want to showcase what YouTube and programmatic can do together," said Alexis Cox, innovation lead for Art, Copy & Code. "People are watching just as much [online video] as they're watching on TV. … Brands are noticing."
The ads will target both fans who are online but not watching the game (including those looking up scores) and those who are watching one game on TV but may be monitoring out-of-market games online.
"With live games, the amount of actual action is very short. There's a lot of downtime to play on your phone," Ms. Cox said.
The ads will be produced during three NHL games this week, and probably five games per week in the coming weeks. The promise of placing them through a centralized, automated platform is that they will be better targeted to viewers who might actually be interested.
"You can stuff data into this machine and it will learn over time how best to target ads," Ms. Cox said. "… This is a new foray into programmatic, trying to leverage targeting to distribute content people want to see."