While millions of Americans got ready to watch the Super Bowl this past weekend, Dish Network was selling commercials programmatically in the programming on its Sling TV streaming platform leading up to and providing postgame analysis after the clash between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
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Through a closed, contextual auction, advertisers using a large number of demand-side platforms bid for ads in real time during shows on ESPN, FS1 and other networks, along with some Spanish-language coverage of the game. For winning bidders, ads aired instantaneously.
Sling has been running contextual auctions — automated sales of thematically related programming — since last year’s March Madness.
“The ecosystem is changing quickly, and I can tell you with certainty how quickly we’ve grown this space and set up different ad capabilities,” Adam Lowy, director of advanced TV and digital sales at Dish, said.
For Sling, contextual auctions are going on constantly. There are auctions for kids programming and general entertainment as well as sports.
Bowl-ing for Dollars
Lowy declined to estimate sales volume for Sling’s auction of programming surrounding the NFL title game, but expected it to be super.
“If you have a TV, you’re going to be watching,” Lowy said. “It’s definitely a big weekend in terms of viewing, definitely a big weekend for us. It will be a really good test of the connected TV space as over-the-top continues to grow.”
Lowy said a large number of demand-side platforms (DSPs) representing thousands of advertisers expressed interest in the auctions of programming surrounding the Super Bowl. A couple of agencies planned to participate as well.
Fortunately for the people who work at Sling, they won’t have to spend the weekend fielding calls and booking spot sales.
“The beauty of programmatic is no, we don’t necessarily have to have a staff sitting here monitoring,” Lowy said. “It’s almost like a set-it-and-forget-it mentality.”
After the Super Bowl, Sling TV will move on to the Olympics. Sling can insert ads into the coverage of the Winter Games from South Korea on the NBCUniversal cable networks and other channels.
“Some advertisers don’t want to wait for the auctions and are buying time in Olympic programming early, in the old-fashioned way,” Lowy said. “We’ll save some inventory for some private auctions.”
Last year, Sling sold March Madness inventory programmatically. The auction drew 90 new advertisers, and sales were up 51%.
This year’s auctions of programming around the basketball tournament will be similar to last year’s.
“The first thing that’s going to be different is we expect a lot more advertisers in there because we have a lot more DSPs now in the space than we did last year at this time,” Lowy said.
“That’s great,” he continued. “So we expect a lot more demand, which in turn in the private auction concept, we believe should even up for higher pricing because you’ve got more people bidding into those slots.”
Lowy said Sling will take what it learned from last year and be ready for what he expects could be between three or four times to five or six times more DSPs making bids.
Sizing Up Buying Options
One benefit from the March Madness auction is that it allows smaller advertisers to wander in and buy sports-related programming.
Lowy said selling ad inventory in auctions is a good thing for Sling, particularly when high-profile events spike viewership. “I have X amount of avails, and I have thousands of advertisers. Who wants in?” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
The auctions work out for clients as well. Some advertisers don’t want to spend enough to get a traditional package of spots associated with March Madness; others only need a handful of impressions.
“We can put you in the auction and try to get you what you need,” Lowy said.
To create contextual auctions, Sling checks program guides and other sources to find shows about the Super Bowl or March Madness.
“We package it all together, and we set our dynamic ad insertion system … so we’re only serving ads during those times on those networks,” Lowy said.
To buy in, advertisers have to meet a minimum cost per thousand views (CPM) with their bids.
Some advertisers may choose to be more specific about what they’re buying, perhaps applying more sophisticated data.
“If somebody says, ‘I only want men 25-64 that are watching those programs,’ we can put that parameter in there,” Lowy said. “And we could put in any type of layering, data or segments we want on there. Some people want that, some people don’t. That may affect your bid price, and it may affect how much of it you might air.”