Your Next Media Rights Deal Should Be With A Digital Provider

March 23rd, 2018 | by Nic Lewis
Your Next Media Rights Deal Should Be With A Digital Provider


Last week I wrote a couple of articles that could probably benefit from a bit of a broader perspective as it pertains to real-life application of the conceptual information within.

First came an article on my own website about the changing landscape of cable versus digital streaming for media rights, and the need for Group of Five programs to begin capitalizing on this in their favor. Of note was this passage:

Add to that the research which suggests that given current trends, by 2025 half of viewers under the age of 32 will be either “cord-cutters” (ditched traditional for streaming) or “cord-nevers” (only ever used streaming). Similarly-aged data suggests that people are replacing “time spent in front of TV” with “time spent in front of YouTube” in substantive chunks. That’s three-year-old data now, and the move to streaming has only accelerated since then.

Being a smaller program involves doing your best to find and exploit inefficiencies in the market, and one of the best ways to do that is to find trends and get ahead of them. The growing trend of viewership habits shifting towards new tech is a meaningful trend, so it’s helpful to figure out the details of it and how to use them in your favor.

I also wrote here at CollegeAD about how the athletics department at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County reaped the benefits of combining a national opportunity for exposure with a Twitter account being run by someone who understood how to capitalize. Here’s the relevant passage I’ll focus on:

The goal of marketing is always fairly straightforward. Find the methods of advertising your product that is most likely to get people to take notice of that product. While you’re at it, also be working on finding the methods of advertising your product that is most likely to get people to purchase your product.

Athletics and social media come to mind immediately. It is a well-known mantra that athletics are the front porch of an institution, because any time you have an athletics program that winds up on television, you are able to generate brand awareness to a very massive audience with relatively minimal effort.

Social media can be a great equalizer, in that it can take less effort to reach a greater audience.

Social media is a crucial area to understand because it is all about engagement. Understanding why such metrics matter and how to use them yourself can be very valuable in making sure you are maximizing efficiency with your athletic dollars.

Your athletics are a great revenue generator, but digital media is far more important than you think, and capitalizing on it can give your program a leg up on the competition.


Cable ads still have the upper hand because a thirty-second ad spot is still coveted more than digital ad space, which is often still viewed as intrusive. However, as the number of people who are increasingly comfortable with tech increases over time, spending will shift from traditional cable viewers to streaming natives.

There’s a reason that ESPN is finally launching their ESPN+ streaming service. They’re trying to finally join the streaming game as a means of stemming the tide of departures from traditional cable subscription to streaming media subscription.

When you think about it, cable is actually a rather dated and obtuse option when it comes to advertising.

How does a cable network let people know about relevant programming? They advertise on the channel that the program will air on, and on similar channels, and just hope that people will see it.

In reality, it’s surprising that cable can still charge such high ad rates to those seeking to advertise with them since it continues to be a non-actionable medium. What I mean is that in order for that cable ad to actually generate any revenue, the advertisement needs to convince the viewer to do something outside of that platform the ad is on.

Coca-Cola doesn’t generate any revenue from an ad unless it causes viewers to go and buy their products, and Northwest Patootie State University doesn’t generate any revenue from a cable ad unless it causes alumni to pick up their phone or get on their computer to donate, or it causes some prospective student to go online and apply.

A network throws up an advertisement, logs the number of views, and then just sits around trying to figure out whether or not that leads to those who viewed it actually performing any actions that generate them revenue.


Facebook and other digital platforms use what is called dynamic targeted marketing. They target ads for the event, even while the event is currently on, to the right mix of people; a member of an alumni group, a member of a fan group, or anyone who has interacted with that page in the past, or anyone who has shown interest in similar events.

They provide a link directly to the event, so no work or subscription is involved, all you have to do is to convince them to click the link you’ve included in the ad. Digital platforms easily capture people who might not have otherwise watch that event by showing them content that is similarly relevant. It’s also more useful for engagement.

There are real-time ways to track how many people viewed the ad, how many people click through to the link, how many of the people that click through actually took action once they arrived there, and on and on ad infinitum. This allows them to both produce better ads in the future, as well as produce more targeted ads for each individual user based on what their behavior related to that original ad was.

Cable advertising is like you placing one billboard advertising your program in the middle of the state on a major road, and just sitting back hoping that enough of your desired audience both sees that ad and takes action on it to make the expense of the ad worthwhile.

Digital advertising is like having billboards all over the state, and every one of them is an HD TV screen that instantaneously changes each time a new set of eyes goes by to make sure that every person who might be interested in your product sees the ad for it, no matter when or where they are.

This juxtaposition is comparable to the origin of the car. Back in the day, people used horses for a long time, and so initially cars were new and different; why would I get a car when a horse can do the same thing? Eventually, cars evolved to the point of going 200 miles per hour and driving themselves, but a horse is still just a horse, and the fastest way to get around on a horse is to stick that horse inside of a car.


With digital media, they have far more advanced metrics running in real time, all the time, in order to use their dynamic targeted marketing as effective as possible. For that reason, they also determine how ‘sticky’ content is. ‘Stickiness’ takes things a step further to not only determine how many people view a certain piece of content, but how long they view it for, how long they hang around and what else they look at while they’re there.

In this sense, it’s similar to an electronics store; Best Buy cares not just how many people came in to see their sale, but also the number of people who stuck around to see what else they have, exactly how much time they spent browsing a particular item, and what items they not only looked at but purchased.

In digital media, this matters because logic dictates that a user who reads the entire 2,000-word article, watches the entire eight-minute video, or spends thirty minutes browsing various items is far more valuable than the one who reads half the article, or watches half the video, or views one item and then leaves.

Those who are around longer can be exposed to a lot more advertising, and when turning an ad into an action is as simple as a click, then increased time exposed to ads means an increased likelihood of a click and all the revenue that could come with it.


“So cable is a dying medium, and digital and online streaming are the new wave full of value due to their ability to more specifically target a more captive audience. I get that, but what does that have to do with me?”

I talked about streaming platforms like Amazon and social media platforms like Facebook looking to add streaming content as a means of Group of Five school capitalizing on an opportunity. That’s because they are always assessing the engagement of both their platform as a whole and the content they contain. To that end, they are also trying to figure out how to make themselves as ‘sticky’ as possible – get people to hang around longer and interact with the platform more so that those people are more likely to take revenue-generating action.

What is the stickiest content of all? Live sports. There is nothing an advertiser loves more in the age of DVRed, skippable commercials than an event that is best viewed live and in need of advertising to fill the dead spaces. There are also few things fans of teams love more than to be on social media interacting with friends and strangers about what they are watching in front of them. There’s a reason that every March Madness game results in a spike in social media content about those teams during their game.

Facebook is so interested in this pursuit that they’re paying Major League Baseball roughly $30 million to broadcast one Wednesday afternoon baseball game per week for one season. Now they can have one day a week where two teams’ fans tuning in for a Wednesday afternoon game are now going to be on their site for an extended length of time. They’ll spend that time interacting with other users through comments, and with the platform by watching the event and clicking around elsewhere on Facebook if the baseball game gets boring.

Heck, CBS is so interested in such sports content that they’ve already made a deal to broadcast one American Alliance of Football game per week despite their first game still being a full two years away.

Live sports content gives the platform multiple hours to sell advertising against, which makes it desirable for them to acquire, but there’s benefit to you as well. It also gives you a younger captive audience (full of potential future students) who are going to be of a new mindset that they will seek out content regardless of the platform as long as the barrier to entry is low. Streaming that content on a platform they are already using regularly is a barrier that couldn’t be much lower.


ESPN is a name brand who is fading as we speak. They possess a ton of the content but have not kept up technologically, and now have to increasingly spend portions of a dwindling revenue stream on developing the tech to catch up. Facebook, Amazon, and YouTube already have that platform in place and are just needing the content to fill it up.

You possess a powerful weapon in your athletics content, which when sold to the right buyer (a streaming platform that needs content, or a social media platform eager for viewers who hang around longer) can generate a substantial bump in revenue and engagement. It’s time to bite the bullet and invest in your future by going where that future is already located.

About Nic Lewis
Current owner and founder of, I've also been a writer and editor for several SB Nation sites. Unabashedly rooting for all Pittsburgh sports teams, Penn State, and otherwise rooting for chaos. UAB and New Mexico State are my pet projects.

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