Fox Aims to Roll Out Split-Screen Commercial Format in All Sports Telecasts
Will use the ad format during UFC telecast on Jan. 26
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/9/2013 2:44:40 PM
This past Friday night during the first half of its Cotton Bowl telecast, Fox used a split-screen format for commercials in a televised sport other than NASCAR for the first time, running two commercial pods featuring seven different advertisers. The network is planning to use the format again during a UFC telecast on Saturday night, Jan. 26, and will also test it during Major League Baseball telecasts this season.
"Television has had the full-screen commercial format for many, many decades," says Bill Wanger, executive VP, programming and research at Fox Sports Media. "Change comes slowly, but we are working closely with our advertisers and building a foundation of data to come up with the best split-screen format possible. We see it as the wave of the future because research shows that it keeps viewers more engaged in the commercials."
Sports have been very popular with advertisers because viewers watch in real time and don't fast-forward through commercials on their DVRs. But they can use their remotes during breaks in the action, so keeping viewers focused on sponsors' messages would be attractive to advertisers.
Fox was not the first network to dabble in the split-screen format, with both Turner and ESPN trying it out earlier and continuing to use it. However, Fox is the first to try it out in football and also tested a different ratio of split-screen-ad space to live telecast-during the commercial breaks than it had done during its NASCAR usage.
TNT calls its split-screen format on its NASCAR telecasts "Wide Open Coverage." Fox has labeled its format the "Never Leave Commercial Break."
Wanger said the new format tested in the college bowl telecast on Friday gave the advertisers 92% of the screen for the commercial and a significant billboard across the bottom, with the live telecast box taking up only 8% of the screen. This was a big departure of prior formats which typically have devoted 80% of the screen space to the advertiser and 20% to the live telecast.
On Friday, the format shift took place in the first commercial break of the first quarter with advertisers General Motors, Allstate, Subway and Dr Pepper, and in the first break of the second quarter with advertisers AT&T, UPS, Ford and Dr Pepper.
Fox had biometric research done on a sampling of TV viewers during the telecast at two different locations conducted by Innerscope to measure the effectiveness. Participating advertisers were invited to observe that process.
"It's a totally open process. There is nothing hidden from our advertisers about the effectiveness of the format," Wanger says. "We are working with them every step of the way as far as research and ideas to make the format better."
Fox first began testing the split-screen commercial format during the final three NASCAR races it televised in late May and early June 2011. In each of those races, the final commercial break was shown in the double-box format. NASCAR advertisers who participated in that test were Sprint, Coke, Pizza Hut, Fed Ex and Toyota.
With the feedback positive from both the advertisers and viewers, Fox expanded its testing the following NASCAR season in 2012. The network ran the format in the final three or four commercial breaks of every NASCAR Sprint Cup race it televised last season. In those races, 18 advertisers utilized the format including: Sprint, Coke, Toyota, Dodge, Pepsi, Subway, Budweiser, Farmers Insurance, Lowe's, KFC, Geico and DirecTV.
Innerscope research commissioned by Fox Sports conducted during the 2012 NASCAR season found the following:
- The split-screen commercial breaks ranked 18% higher on engagement than full-screen ads
- A commercial's emotional payoff moment scored 11% higher
- Split-screen boxing maintains better pod engagement, making all positions in the commercial break equally valuable
- Split-screen commercials maintain high levels of visual attention
- Viewers are much more likely to stay tuned and keep their eyes on the screen than for full-screen commercials
- 84% of viewers preferred the split-screen format compared to the traditional full-screen ads
Wanger says it will be another week or so before Innerscope is able to finalize its data from the biometric testing from the Friday night Cotton Bowl telecast, but when the results are in, it will be shared with all the advertisers.
Expanding the space offered to advertisers enables advertisers to be more creative with the bottom-third display portion of the screen, maintains Wanger. The top part of the screen featured the commercial with the bottom display portion used for the advertisers' logo and any other visual message. That also ran up the right side of the screen with the live sports box in the top right corner. During the Dr Pepper spots, in addition to its logo, a rotating can of Dr Pepper appeared in the display portion. But Wanger says advertisers can use it whatever way they wish to creatively, including messaging that could drive viewers to their websites.
Wanger says the sizing of the elements in the format and how the display portion can be used is a work in progress, but advertisers are being given an active role. "Advertisers and their agencies can come up with ways to fill that space. The goal is to enhance the commercial viewing experience," Wanger says. "And making the live box too large would defeat that purpose."
Wanger says any advertiser is welcome to initiate talks with the Fox Sports sales department about getting involved in the split-screen ad program moving forward. "We are evolving this process live as we use it in each telecast," he says.
The UFC airing on Jan. 26 will have one-minute commercial pods, so there will be only two advertisers per pod instead of four. Wanger says the advertisers would likely be different than the ones that have been in the NASCAR and Cotton Bowl telecasts. "They have different categories of advertisers, with beer and telecom being a couple of the larger ones," he says.
The cost of appearing in one segment of the split-screen commercial pod is the same as for a full-screen commercial, Wanger says. That being the case, placement is simply a matter of advertiser preference. Expanding the practice to MLB will give Fox almost seven months to experiment with it in baseball, and perhaps even try a few split screens during the 2013 MLB playoffs or World Series.
Watch an example of the split-screen commercial break below.
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