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Sporting News Revamps Mobile Ads as Its Audience Shifts to Handhelds

Microsoft purchases the first run of cross-device takeover promos

Here is what the Universal Ad Takeover experience looks like. Sporting News Network

In order to meet the growing business-side demand for mobile advertising, Sporting News Media is revamping its offerings to allow for a cross-platform experience. The publisher's homepage takeovers—heretofore only seen on the desktop experience—now appear on its mobile sites as well.

Microsoft is the first brand to utilize the dynamic offering, dubbed Universal Ad Takeover, running promos for its Surface Pro Tablet. In addition to ads surrounding editorial, Sporting News is pitching mobile-friendly video including geo-targeted game highlights from Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

"I think brands need to demand more from their media ad sales team on mobile. I think that the basic media executions that we've seen on mobile, like [Google] AdSense, they're just not that great," Sporting News Media president Rich Routman said.

Sporting News Media's mobile investment is largely in part because the majority of its audience is shifting to smartphones and tablets. Forty-two percent of its readership consumes content on a mobile device, according to its 2014 U.S. Know the Fan Report. It's twice as much as the 21 percent reported in 2011. ComScore also previously discovered that while desktop traffic for sports publications was declining, mobile usage was increasing. Sporting News Media saw a 247 percent increase in mobile traffic year-over-year this past October, per comScore.

"People have grown accustomed to accessing media on any screen at any time, and content owners have met the demand," said eMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna. "Also, smartphones, tablets and compression and streaming technologies continue to improve, enhancing the mobile video experience. This has had a particularly positive effect on sports video, which relies on uninterrupted, high-quality streaming."

Verna explained that even niche sports—such as soccer in the U.S.—are reaching wider audiences thanks to online platforms. The growth of fantasy sports has also led to the digital revolution. In addition, Verna pointed out that that athletic events are a "live phenomenon," and viewers want to see real-time stats with whatever medium is nearby. Now, that's usually a smartphone, table or computer.

The analyst added that brands are taking advantage of this trend, to the point where most digital sports video is ad supported, even when it's behind a paywall like MLB's At Bat app. Authentication-based streaming is also growing in popularity, with ESPN and NBC Sports videos carrying branded banners and video ads.

"While we don't have access to metrics that specifically track ad spending on digital sports sites/apps, the amount of content and time spent on those properties is growing significantly, as is mobile streaming in general," Verna said. "With these trends in full swing, advertisers that already support sports content on TV, radio and live events are naturally inclined to extend their presence to digital platforms, if they haven't already done so."

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