Content Comes Out Swinging

Feb 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

YES Network expects to add a lineup of advertising opportunities when its new interactive telecasts come up to bat later this year.

The nation’s largest regional sports network, available to viewers in New York, Connecticut and parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, completed a deal last week with DirecTV and MLB.com to add several interactive elements to its regular-season New York Yankees games starting in July. Subscribers with interactive set-top boxes from DirecTV will be able to get updated statistics, box scores, out-of-town game scores and views from a special camera on-demand using their remote control. They’ll also be able to play interactive games against other viewers.

And YES plans to sell sponsorships for many of those features.

“The value proposition here is to get clients to be more involved in our broadcast,” said Steve Berman, senior VP of advertising for YES. “Even though the 30-second spot is a staple of what their base buy is all about, they’re trying to find different ways to reach the consumer.”

Ray Hopkins, chief operating officer of YES, said the interactive content will help sponsors form a closer connection with Yankees fans. “They’re watching on a daily basis. Now with the interactive element, they’ll be able to interact with it. Clients love that. If you can interact with not only the content, but in some fashion with their product, that creates sales volume.”

With the ink still wet on the deal, the network has only begun to think about elements of the interactive broadcast that can be sponsored, but already the list is growing.

“First of all, we have to play with it,” Mr. Berman said. “We have to see what it can do before we can go out there and sell it. We have to know what the bells and whistles are and we have to know how to package it, and we have to be able to say that it can do what it can do.”

Viewers who tune in during the fifth inning can check out Randy Johnson’s pitching line, a feature that might be sponsored by Chase, Mr. Berman said. Lists of who hit home runs and other statistics could also be sponsored.

On cable, McDonald’s sponsored the out-of-town scoreboard last season. The fast-food giant could also sponsor the interactive version of that feature, he said.

The special interactive camera, which would be aimed at one player per half-inning, could also be sponsored, Mr. Berman said. And the interactive game could be sponsored by a game company.

In addition to interactive content, the DirecTV technology allows viewers to receive additional advertising content, ranging from commercials on-demand to the ability to request more information or a sales call.

“All those capabilities are all doable from a technical standpoint,” Mr. Hopkins said. “What Steve needs to do is find out what’s of interest to the clients. And if we can monetize it, we will implement it.”

Some of the interactive ad opportunities might add value for important existing YES sponsors.

“When a client spends a lot of money, you want to make them as happy as you can because the more that they get out of it, the more we get out of it. We’re all about partnerships,” Mr. Berman said.

The new sponsorships also may open opportunities to other companies that currently can’t afford spots on the network.

“I get calls daily from people who really don’t have a lot of money to spend but want some way, shape or form to be associated with the Yankees and the YES Network. And these are the kind of opportunities that we can do with them.”

Mr. Berman also expects some interest from major companies and media buyers that would like to take batting practice with this latest bit of technology. “Being in the No. 1 market, it’s going to get a major amount of play,” he said. “People are going to test it, they’re going to try it. And they’re going to want to get in on the ground floor.” After all, if it works for YES, he said, it can be deployed in other markets where baseball is telecast by DirecTV.

Mr. Hopkins noted that while this deal relies on DirecTV technology, YES is prepared to work on interactive broadcasts on other platforms in order to maintain its pre-eminent position.

“We take a lot of pride in being the top regional sports network in the country,” Mr. Hopkins said. He noted that DirecTV is controlled by News Corp., which through Fox also operates a string of regional sports networks. “That Fox came to us speaks volumes,” he said. “This keeps YES Network on the cutting edge of technology.”