The proposition has been a familiar one for as long as commercial television has existed. Advertisers and sponsors wanted to associate their brands with particular programming—sports, entertainment, news, etc.—that their customers and prospects were interested in. Content was indeed king.
The broadcast and cable networks that sent those programs into homes and other establishments, and sold the ad time that ran alongside them, were just go-betweens. Absolutely essential go-betweens to be sure, but the bottom line was that brands’ media plans were built on what their audiences watched far more than what network they watched it on.
In sports, brands have long been identified as NFL or college basketball advertisers, not CBS or ESPN advertisers. But with the rise of Amazon and Apple as media rights owners, that situation may be changing.
That is not to say that brands with target markets that don’t profile as NFL fans will suddenly be popping up on Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football. But for brands wanting to reach pro football fans—or MLS or MLB fans in Apple’s case—the game has clearly been changed from the days when the choice was simply between the offerings of traditional linear TV providers.
While TNF’s roster of new presenting sponsors last week included a host of brands that can be found across other networks’ NFL programming—Verizon, Subway, State Farm, Allstate—it also included a surprise newcomer to the ranks of NFL media sponsorship, JCPenney.
The move is part of the retailer’s $1 billion investment into its business over the next few years as it seeks to right a long-floundering corporate ship. Judging by expert opinions cited in media coverage of the sponsorship, the decision to polish and help re-establish the brand through an association with the most popular sport in the U.S. is a smart one.
But the conversation around the partnership involving Amazon and what the tech giant brings to the table has elicited just as much praise—something that would not have been the case if JCPenney had taken title to a postgame show on CBS, NBC or ABC/ESPN.
So while there are still numerous advantages to linear TV for both properties and advertisers—larger audiences and reach chief among them—the ad tech innovations that Amazon and Apple are introducing, plus the ability to offer a plethora of non-media benefits to partners, are quickly helping to level the playing field. It will be fascinating to see how broadcast and cable sports rights owners respond in order to keep their advertisers happy.