Measuring Basketball’s March Madness

OTT Campaigns and March Madness
OTT Campaigns & March Madness

Like most of the country, all of us here at NinthDecimal were fired up for this year’s March Madness tournament. But besides just cheering for our favorite team and hoping to win our brackets, we were excited for other reasons. We were measuring brands who were sponsoring March Madness campaigns including linear and over-the-top (OTT) video. While we’ve measured plenty of OTT campaigns, this was during one of the biggest national live sporting events, so we were expecting to see some pretty interesting behaviors. However, even we were surprised by the consumer trends revealed around OTT consumption (content accessed outside of a typical set-top-box from a satellite or cable provider), what it told us about how and when people watched March Madness, and how differently national OTT campaigns behave.

The Impact of OTT on Live Content

We measure billions of digital, OTT and Connected TV impressions at any given time so there is always a high volume of measuring pixels coming into our platform. However, when tied to a nationally prominent live event such as March Madness, the volume of OTT consumption of the NCAA Tournament games surfaced some very interesting insights. Quite simply, volume was off the charts.

To put this into perspective, Chart A shows the total impression volume of all the campaigns we were measuring Thursday, March 21, the start of the first round of the tournament. This is without the March Madness OTT campaigns, and looks like a pretty typical Thursday in our measurement platform.

Chart A - All March 21 Campaigns Not Including March Madness
Chart A – All March 21 Campaigns Not Including March Madness

March Madness Tipoff

Then it happened…tipoff on Thursday, March 21, at 12:15 PM ET. This was also the same time when the March Madness OTT campaigns went live. Suddenly we saw massive spikes in measurement impression volume (Chart B). In fact, these spikes were up to 5x the normal measurement volume of all campaigns. These spikes were followed by drops to normal levels and then another enormous spike. And the pattern kept repeating. What was happening?

Chart B – March 21 Campaign Activity

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

While our measurement platform was working hard for our customers, it seems that millions of people across America weren’t working. Instead, they had tuned in to watch the first day of March Madness games. Since they were at work, OTT became an ideal option for viewing. That created a massive impression volume for the March Madness OTT campaigns we were measuring.

These OTT spikes were the result of the dynamics of a national live event being watched in real-time or close to real-time. In digital, ad impressions are more evenly distributed. People consume digital content on their own time, generating ad impressions on a fairly consistent basis throughout a day. You can see that behavior in Chart A above. However, with this OTT campaign, commercials were running and being viewed by millions of people simultaneously and within a narrow window of time. The real-time viewing nature meant ad impressions were not spread out over time. Consumers had simultaneous ad impressions, followed by simultaneous periods of no ad impressions during gameplay. The result were these concentrated spikes.

First Weekend of March Madness

As the tournament moved into its first weekend of play, our platform once again revealed some interesting behaviors. Friday looked very similar to Thursday, with yet another day of people watching games at work. But as the second round of match-ups got started on Saturday, we saw spikes that were significantly lower (Chart C).

Chart C – March 23 Campaign Activity

Consumers Turn to Traditional Broadcast AND OTT

What was responsible for the change? Had fans stopped watching March Madness? Our hypothesis is that OTT volume saw a drop on Saturday, March 23 as fans had more viewing options. Specifically, not being at work, they could watch on the big screen at home, out at bars with friends, etc. which shifted more viewing back to traditional broadcast or linear TV. However, even with different weekend viewing options, OTT was still driving spikes that were up to 3x the volume of all campaigns being measured that Saturday.

What Do These Trends Tell Us About OTT?

Consumer’s Viewing Patterns are Influenced by Their Environment

OTT has become a powerful platform and a great way for marketers to engage with their target customers. The volume levels during the week points to the on-demand nature of content consumption which OTT provides, especially within full episode players. This, combined with the live nature of sports, drives the value of OTT advertising within key streaming sports content. For example, demand for OTT services increases when traditional broadcast isn’t available. When broadcast is available, viewing behavior tends to shift towards it, yet OTT remains a strong alternative.

Measurement Platforms Must Be Ready for OTT

OTT campaigns clearly don’t behave like digital campaigns. The concentrated high spikes in measurement traffic differs significantly from the smoother volume curves of digital traffic. In fact, with live events such as March Madness, OTT ad impressions are more akin to broadcast or linear TV patterns. Being able to measure these high impression volume OTT campaigns requires a different set of measurement platform capabilities than what it takes to measure digital campaigns. Traditional platform capacity planning builds in breathing room to handle spikes in traffic that might otherwise break the system. However, these usually aren’t buffers of 5x normal capacity. We were fortunate that our amazing operations team had anticipated this challenge and planned accordingly. However, even we were surprised by the volume and did some quick tuning on March 21 to ensure we could easily handle the higher volume with no customer disruption. As consumer viewing behaviors continue to evolve, particularly into more Advanced TV options such as OTT, we can certainly expect more marketers will want to measure their advertising effectiveness on those channels. In fact, we’ve already seen an increase of 285% in advanced TV measurement in the past twelve months.

In other words, OTT appears to be a great option for engaging your customers and prospects. If you are considering measuring OTT, make sure your measurement partner is ready to handle it. Otherwise, it could all become “madness”. (*Shout-out to our amazing operations team, who had a process and the technology in place to insure there were no customer disruptions in measuring OTT March Madness campaigns.)