The new rules of audience engagement for TV sports

tv sports public relationsTucked into an excellent article in today’s Wall Street Journal about rights fees for TV sports programming were a few paragraphs about new ways to measure viewer interest. The change in metrics has great implications for public relations professionals and their clients.

The traditional view of sports is ratings. ESPN and ESPN2 are kings, and they receive about $5.71 a month per subscriber, according to SNL Kagan, a media research firm.  When the Houston Astros and Rockets formed a sports network in October, they asked cable and satellite TV networks for $3.40 a month.

AT&T and DirecTV balked. AT&T based its response on data from set-top boxes that tracks when customers tune into home games, against which opponents, and for how long people watch. The NSA has nothing on that company.

The data are crunched to measure what AT&T calls an “engagement level.” The company won’t reveal the recipe, but Jeff Weber, president of content and advertising sales, told the Journal: “You start to think about not just viewership, but a broader phrase — viewership intensity.”

What increases engagement? Advertising falls short; it’s best at branding, top-of-mind awareness, and getting people to try a new or repositioned product or service. Heavy advertising can boost TV ratings, but it cannot sustain them.

Public relations is much better suited to the task. An ad can introduce a player to fans, but engagement happens in person or online. With 9.1 million followers, LeBron James can reach more fans with one Tweet than through an ad on a South Florida TV sports channel.

Public relations generates engagement through social media, in-person events, and many-to-many communication. Think fan fairs, online chats, and social TV. Programming revenue becomes based not on how many households are hooked up but on how they interact with a team. An old media model dies and a newone is born — again.

Next: What’s viewership intensity and how does it translate into revenue?


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