A New Year’s Resolution for Video Services: Go for a (TV) Marathon!

By Ron Gutman

Happy New Year! Why not start off 2019 with something easy to do, that delivers a very high ROI, and doesn’t require you to go to the gym?

A TV marathon is a specific way of packaging re-runs, which as we all know, have been applied successfully by broadcast and cable networks for years on traditional TV.  The basis of a marathon’s success has been to use re-run content that typically has passed its VOD, Netflix or syndication distribution windows, and with proper in-channel promotion, give it the feel of a one-time event — an exclusive deal allowing the audience to connect with a more complete view of the story, thereby increasing its appeal compared to a traditional re-run. As a matter of fact, under certain conditions it generates much higher Hours of Viewing (HOV), and therefore ad impressions, than VOD publishing, in a much shorter time frame and without jeopardizing the content value.

Marathons on Traditional TV

Cable and broadcast networks have used TV marathons as a promotional tool for a sequel release, a new season, or even a season finale, such as Game of Thrones marathons now running on HBO before the eagerly anticipated release of Season 8 in April. Marathons can also be very popular when the content is related to a holiday, such as showing a Die Hard marathon on Christmas Eve.

But, on pay TV there are challenges to airing marathons. Because “air time” is precious, marathon durations have to be limited – typically to just a portion of a day. In addition, it’s hard to assess the audience for a marathon and the ad revenue it will generate when compared to other programming alternatives.

In an attempt to address these issues, operators have experimented with “pop-up” channels – creating a new channel for a limited period of time. This seems like a good idea, but the cost of creating and promoting the pop-up channel to reach the right audiences could rise to millions of dollars and potential cannibalization of ratings on your primary channels. Content owners are now discovering that it makes more sense to run a pop-up channel on a completely separate distribution path – OTT.

Marathons on OTT TV

For marathons, Internet-based video services don’t have the same constraints as pay TV.  Unlimited channel capacity eliminates opportunity cost considerations and, because of the lower costs of OTT services, provide excellent returns.

In the summer of 2017, Wurl produced its first marathon. In partnership with IGN, we programmed and distributed a pop-up channel that provided three days of live coverage of the E3 gaming conference and eSports competition. The ad-supported E3 channel was broadly distributed online and on connected TV platforms, generating over 500k hours of viewing.

In 2018, Wurl launched a set of streaming and advertising tech services to make it simple and cost effective for our customers to run OTT marathons at scale and without risk.  Our customers – video producers and video services – wanted to reach all of those cord-cutters, cord-shavers and cord-nevers. Our first distribution partner for OTT marathons was Twitch. Twitch has a unique network and customer profile – over 140 million viewers, primarily males aged 18-44 in 50+ countries.

The results have been outstanding.  In 2018, we ran 15 marathons that attracted over 10 million unique viewers and tens of millions of viewing hours.  Some of the marathons ran for just day or two. Others ran for multiple months and could be considered pop-up channels. For example, we ran a Dr. Who marathon in June-July and a Pokemon marathon in September-October. Each resulted in millions of viewers and millions of hours of viewing.  We also ran some weekend marathons, including one in May for Saturday Night Live before their season finale, garnering hundreds of thousands of viewers.

Wurl has developed unique ad tech to manage the ad inventory created during marathons and to dynamically insert a variety of targeted ad units – including mid-rolls and overlays.

We monitor viewing activity and viewer sentiment for each marathon and have uncovered some interesting findings.  In particular, we found that marathons provided viewers with a convenient way to binge-view. Additionally, playing one episode after another drove high session time and great ad revenue.

As we progressed from marathon to marathon, our engineers have worked closely with our customers’ operations teams to create simple workflows for launching any marathon. Most marathons can be launched in as few as four weeks.

We’re doubling down on marathons in 2019. How about you?