After rolling out a new over-the-top streaming service for sports fans in February 2018, CBS experienced substantial growth last year after fine-tuning its 24/7 offering.
CBS Sports HQ more than doubled its total number of streams by 112% in 2019. The service also witnessed similar growth in total minutes viewed, according to the network.
Meanwhile, unique users on dedicated OTT platforms like Roku or Apple TV jumped 171% year-over-year.
“The first year of CBS Sports HQ was about setting up the infrastructure and building out the team that can manage a 24/7 network,” said Jeff Gerttula, executive vice president & general manager of CBS Sports Digital. “The second year, we were able to do more with our content and provide stronger coverage around news events.”
Improved programming is arguably the most significant factor behind CBS Sports HQ’s recent success. The OTT network made a concerted effort in 2019 to dedicate segments and entire one-hour shows to topics such as sports gambling and fantasy sports. New talent was also brought in to improve analysis and on-air storytelling, particularly around breaking news events.
That propelled CBS Sports HQ to a strong finish in 2019, Gerttula said. December now stands as the second biggest month on record for the service, in terms of viewership, behind only last February when the platform featured exclusive content around the Super Bowl. Users currently average 35 minutes per session on the service. Thirty-five is also the average median age of CBS Sports HQ’s audience.
At its core, CBS Sports HQ wants to be the premier destination for fans looking for the latest news on the field. This would entail providing fans with expert takes, a broader range of highlight packages, and real-time data viewers will consider when setting fantasy lineups or placing bets on games.
“I don’t think we fully landed on this, but we certainly improved it in 2019,” said Gerttula. “We don’t want sensational takes or coverage of topics not related to the games. We want highlights, news, and reaction to breaking news.”
CBS Sports HQ is also free to users – something competitors like ESPN and NBC, who launched their respective OTT platforms before CBS, cannot claim. CBS considers all major sports media companies to be competitors in the OTT space. But Gerttula also includes social media platforms and digitally native sports offerings on that list as well.
“We are competing with anything that takes minutes and attention away from a sports fan,” he added. That’s why we are focused on a specific audience. Some people like sensational takes, but we want to keep it simple.”
CBS has no immediate plans to charge for its service or to introduce a tiered-pricing model akin to Hulu or Disney+, which offers ESPN+ as part of a bundle package to fans. This is partly due to its advertising-supported model going fairly well to date, according to the network.
CBS Sports HQ announced Geico as its latest corporate sponsor on January 9. The insurance giant has been a marketing partner of CBS since the 2018 football season. As part of the agreement, Geico will now have its own sponsored show, GEICO 15, on the OTT platform, which will run three times a week before highly-anticipated games. GEICO could not immediately be reached for comment.
The OTT market is projected to reach $156 billion by 2024, buoyed by the growth of broadband and increased usage of smart devices, according to a new report from researcher MarketsandMarkets. That represents a 92% increase from 2019. Yet brands remain skeptical over how much stock to put on OTT to advertise to fans, says Over The Top Marketing Co-Founder Mark Kaminski.
The connected TV agency works with companies to place creative ads, including commercials and static digital advertising, on OTT services that accept them. This can either be on a device like Google Chromecast or a direct-to-consumer offering like CBS Sports HQ.
“Most of our clients and prospects understand they need to be in OTT. But it’s truly uncharted waters for them,” said Kaminski. “We tell clients that right now, it should be part of your marketing strategy, but it should not be the only marketing plan.”
Over The Top Marketing asks for a small percentage of brands’ advertising budget dollars to prove to clients that OTT can result in notable returns on investments. The practice is prevalent across OTT agencies, Kaminski added, comparing the state of marketing in OTT to paid social media just a few years ago.
“Just like social or digital media, OTT allows you to see results in real-time instead of waiting on reports from TV networks months after running an ad,” he said. “You can be more targeted with OTT, allowing us to follow the eyeballs and place ads where key market segments are watching. With traditional television, everyone sees that commercial.”