I had a weird dream the other night that actually gave me a business insight. Matt Damon was telling Ben Affleck and me about the absurdity of three-second video views on social media and uber short-form content as a viable storytelling future. We agreed TV ad breaks were an under-utilized space for the reach and cinematic quality they could easily provide.
Right now, Verizon is simultaneously eating up content companies and pushing its Go90 platform. A bet that if it can own content from concept to consumption, the carrier can also own profit from its consumers’ attention even more in tomorrow’s mobile-first, video snacking world. No easy task.
And even if that news passed you by, you can’t help but see a Verizon ad when you watch TV. The company spent $681 million on TV ads and appeared on TV screens more than 23 billion times in 2016 according to iSpot.tv, which measures attention for TV advertising in real-time, from 10 million TV screens.
So what the hell does that have to do with Matt and Ben? You may have missed it amid the hype cycles of Pokemon Go, the Olympics and summer attention slippage, but Matt, Ben and the smart-as-hell guys at Adaptive Studios produced a real-life, geo-location game with Verizon Go90: The Runner. With a tagline that promised “A runner on the loose. A nation on the hunt. A million dollars on the line,” the (nearly) real-time show was captivating, incredibly well produced and had all the elements to become a huge sensation.
The Runner got some press, generated some excitement, got some people engaged and was probably considered a win by Verizon. But it didn’t come near the sensation it could’ve — or arguably should’ve — been. Why not?
I’m in no position to break down Verizon’s marketing investments, nor do I have a clear picture of its audience retention and acquisition returns across all of its channels.
But, as someone who spends a lot of time in the weeds of TV data for iSpot.tv, here’s what I can tell you: the digital series saw $2.5 million in TV ad support during a month when the carrier spent $29.2 million on ads.
Ads for The Runner appeared on TV screens 150 million times. And they did really well, with a view rate of 97%.
But Verizon’s spend of more than $29 million during the same period meant the carrier ran ads more than 7,500 times and generated 1.192 billion TV ad impressions.
Instead of leveraging The Runner, Verizon got more than a third of its TV ad impressions on the back of “Not Studying” featuring Lebron James, and also ran a campaign about watching video featuring Selena Gomez. Verizon’s numbers grew even bigger in August when the Olympics were running and Verizon spent $55 million.
Now, imagine you’re watching the Olympics and all of a sudden during a commercial break you’re seeing footage of contestants being chased around the country by everyday people in search of a million-dollar prize. Rather than canned 30- and 60-second spots designed to hammer home a message about the Verizon carrier service, what if the company used half of its inventory to show The Runner game highlights from that day?
The Runner would have had 100 million views a day. Compare that to digital hits– not even close! The most viewed TV ad on YouTube last year had just 100 million views, according to YouTube.
Imagine a future where Verizon actually uses its TV ad inventory to entertain people with The Runner.
I’ll venture a few guesses as to what would happen. People start talking about that crazy Verizon game. They begin to search. They go into social channels for more information. People with Verizon phones suddenly have more social currency because they can show their friends. News coverage starts to pour in. The game captivates our collective attention. Verizon stock goes up. It gains customers. Its existing customers begin to unlock the value of Go90 for other forms of content. Everyone in Boston gets a little too cocky because Matt and Ben are so freaking smart (you see what they just did, guy?).
Maybe inserting a new TV ad into rotation every day is too technically challenging. And maybe Verizon brass and stockholders need to play their hands with much less risk. But the facts remain that there are billions upon billions of ads playing on TV screens every single day. TV as a medium, as a device, isn’t going anywhere. And brands of all kinds are pouring money into breaking emotional ground with customers that will try or continue to buy a service. There’s a ton of room for TV advertising to morph into compelling, cross-screen experiences.
As the TV experience increasingly becomes digitally connected, The Runner Season 2 (if there is one) could just be the experience that breaks the mold, if Verizon will just let Matt and Ben — for lack of a better term — run.
**This article originally appeared in Forbes.
**Disclaimer: Damata is an analyst for measurement company iSpot.tv and grew up inside the city limits of Boston. While the data is the most accurate real-time TV data possible, Damata does tend to favor Matt and Ben even though they are technically from the suburbs of Beantown.
Jason Damata is the Founder & CEO of Fabric Media, a storytelling consortium based in Venice, CA.