While last year's World Cup games are now in the rearview mirror, they've provided a big forward thrust for upcoming live sporting events for FreeWheel, a Comcast-owned global technology platform for the television advertising industry.
That's because FreeWheel's technology played a large role in giving soccer fans an engaging and seamless experience on NBCUniversal's Telemundo network and Peacock's streaming platform in Spanish and Fox and Fox Sports 1 in English; as well as on Scottish Television and France-based network TF1.
FreeWheel arranged and delivered World Cup commercials so seamlessly that it is seeking to expand its sports coverage business during the rest of 2023 and beyond. "We're going to increasingly grow our leadership position on the delivery of the most important live events on the globe," says FreeWheel Chief Operating Officer Michael Lawlor.
The World Cup effort was substantial. More than six months of preparation went into FreeWheel's ability to handle the commercial load of each service (mostly for pre-game, half-time and post-game segments). FreeWheel included programmatic transactions, as well as orders that came in directly through ad agencies. The commercials ran on linear TV networks as well as on streaming services.
"Our role was to enable the monetization of the event across all of our partners carrying it on digital channels," explains Lawlor. "It was a long, collaborative process that we had with our programming partners, specifically to ensure that we were ready, they were ready, the playbook was articulated and that we could deliver a flawless experience."
Fueled by strong viewer interest, FreeWheel served two billion digital ad impressions during the 2022 World Cup. That's higher than any other major live event that FreeWheel has worked on to date. As viewers watched in record numbers, the company also reached five times more live, concurrent audiences on streaming services compared to the 2018 competition. (For context, the 2022 World Cup Final averaged nearly 26 million U.S. viewers and was the most streamed -- in English and Spanish -- soccer match presently in the U.S.)
"There's an acceleration of viewership of premium content on digital channels," Lawlor says. "It started with scripted content, and now we're seeing broad adoption of viewership on digital for live sports. People are getting used to hunting for their content and being comfortable watching it on whichever app or channel they find it on."
He believes that FreeWheel's World Cup track record shows that more companies can play a role in generating monetization and that the company can handle the requirements of programmatic ad transactions. "It's taken time for the major programmers to trust other industry players to steward their digital monetization, and we're seeing increased comfort with that," he asserts.
Lawlor notes that more and more advertisers are conducting programmatic transactions. And they're becoming more comfortable with companies like FreeWheel that can ensure a seamless user experience and maximize monetization.
Implementation over the months ahead of FreeWheel's new in-flight streaming optimization feature, introduced at NBCUniversal's One23 conference in New York earlier this month, is expected to accelerate its business. The platform unlocks multi-currency optimization in real time, allowing brands to adjust their digital advertising campaigns on a moment-by-moment basis. It will be monitored by iSpot.tv, VideoAmp and other media research organizations.
"That enables our clients to have tremendous flexibility to maximize the monetization of every single impression, every single viewer they have, through whatever means they want," Lawlor concludes.
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