Rubicon Project Is Helping Publishers Win the Second Screen With Programmatic Olympic Ads

Millennials plan to watch on mobile

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For the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, one programmatic advertising company wants to help brands that aren't paying the big bucks for an official sponsorship or major TV spot still have a "second chance for gold" by winning the race for the second-screen.

Online advertising marketplace Rubicon Project is working with publishers to create Olympic-specific advertising packages for brands ahead of the 2016 Summer games in Brazil.

"It makes the Olympics more accessible to advertisers who are looking to really seize this always-on moment," John Peragine, head of video at Rubicon Project, said in an interview. "I would say this is the first time the Olympics have been able to be automated at this kind of level."

The company has already signed on the USA Today Network and Condé Nast as two of the first publishers. According to Rubicon Project, the publishers coming on board collectively reach about 100 million people. This is the first time Condé Nast has targeted audiences programmatically for a specific event. 

Peragine said publishers who are a part of Rubicon Project's network have an opportunity to package their inventory in desirable ways for advertisers in order to make strategic buys to reach audiences in ways they couldn't with television. He said advertisers would reach an audience with a $25 CPM and reach 1 million users while focusing the message better than they can with a broadcast spot. Programmatic buys also let advertisers pivot quickly to take advantage of stories that might begin trending during the Olympics.

Already, the 2016 Olympics games are shaping up to be an expensive two weeks of advertising. In March, NBC Universal announced it surpassed the $1 billion mark for ad sales for its coverage of the August games across national broadcast, cable and digital channels. And as a result, some of the network's premium inventory was already spoken for months ago. During the 2012 Olympics in London, NBCU only sold $1.3 billion in ads over the entire period. However, while it's certainly a boon for the TV business, it's not a cost-free enterprise. NBCU paid $1.23 billion for the rights to broadcast the games.

There's no doubting that the games will be viewed and read about online more than any other. To learn more about how viewers plan to watch the Olympics, Rubicon Project conducted a survey of 1,000 sports fans to get a better feel for where they'll watch the games. The results found that 79 percent of millennials plan to watch the Olympics online, with 7 in 10 watching on a mobile device. Nearly 70 percent of millennial sports fans plan to stream the games, with 6 in 10 watching live on a mobile device.

"It's really about the fans taking control," Peragine said. "This is the first time we've seen sports fans really have this level of technological control with so many screens where the content is being digitally distributed, and publishers and brands need to go where the audience is consuming."

So, is traditional TV now in second place compared to the second screen? Not necessarily, Rubicon Project says. According to the survey, nearly 70 percent said what they're viewing on a second screen is likely to be related to what they're watching on TV.

The survey also found that Olympic followers are more likely to make purchases on mobile devices as well. On a weekly basis, 32 percent of respondents said they make purchases online at least once a week and 21 percent said they make purchases on mobile devices.

Like many major publishers, mobile plays an increasingly important role across USA Today Network's brands. According to Michael Kuntz, svp of digital for USA Today Network, between 70 and 75 percent of media company's overall audience now accesses content from mobile devices.

For the Olympic games, USA Today plans to send 40 journalists to Brazil to report on the games, and Kuntz said the stories the team will produce will be attractive to brands across the board with a focus on automotive, CPG, technology, retail and financial services.

Kuntz said USA Today wants to target brands that are going to be looking to have a presence at the Olympic games but may not have the budget to support a massive sponsorship opportunity or an integrated 30-second TV spot, which could cost as much as $1 million or more.

"In the programmatic space, really what we're trying to do is give our brands access to the premium content that we're going to be producing, but doing it in a way that's wrapped around high impact," he said.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.