Q&A With David Aufhauser Of Pac-12 Networks: The Frustrations And Promise Of TV Everywhere For Mobile

college footballseason is only a couple of weeks away.

In the U.S., college football is big business and sits at the heart of multibillion-dollar rights deals between universities and the big TV networks.

In August 2012, the Pacific-12 Conference, which groups universities in the western United States, launched Pac-12 Now, a suite of online services and mobile apps.

These allowed subscribers of the Pac-12 Network’s cable TV channels to watch the same American football and sports broadcasts on PCs, smartphones, and tablets.

At the time, only a small handful of mobile video pioneers — including ESPN and CNN — offered true “TV everywhere” simultaneous mobile versions of their TV broadcasts.

Advertisers consider live sports one of the most effective ad platforms out there, since they tend to be one of the few kinds of programming today’s fickle audiences will still watch live. That’s also why it’s important to bring live TV to mobile.

In June of this year, Pac-12 Now launched an Android app, and a new Pac-12.com is coming on August 21.

Earlier this summer we caught up with David Aufhauser, vice president and general manager of digital at Pac-12 Networks. He shared his perspectives on Pac-12’s year in mobile video, and the medium’s relationship to the media and ad businesses.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

BI Intelligence: When you were looking at a TV everywhere solution, was it ever a question of whether the investment was worth the return for Pac-12 Digital?

David Aufhauser: We are 100% owned by the conference. We own ourselves. Obviously dollars come into the equation, but we are able to make decisions on a longer term and a bigger vision. Did we contemplate the future opportunity from a monetization standpoint? Yes. But was it the driving factor? No. The driving factor was all about connecting fans, and providing fans with new and unique ways to engage with our content, bring them closer to the student athletes, the coaches, and teams that they love. And also allow them to engage with each other, with the content as the medium. Our feeling is that if we do that, the money will come.

BII: Has the audience uptake of Pac-12 Now been up to expectations?

DA: It has been awesome. 40-five per cent of our digital audience now accesses Pac-12 sports content on mobile devices via the mobile Web and on our apps.

BII: You mentioned bringing fans together earlier. How do social features tie into your mobile video experiences?

DA: In general, the social aspect of what we do is very important. There are two things that we do that cut across everything, and one of them is that we make everything mobile, and the other is that we make everything social. At launch, we wanted to make it drop-dead simple to share.

BII: What’s challenging about delivering video content on a mobile app or mobile site?

DA: I think discovery is an interesting challenge. Especially for someone like us. We have an incredible amount of really great content: 20 sports per school, and 12 schools. Our challenge is to focus on helping audiences find that content. We have one tool built into our video player technology from Ooyala — an algorithm that suggests three other videos to watch, once you’re done watching a video. We’re also adding other mechanisms and re-architecting the site to make it more event-focused, so it’s really easy to find content around specific events that you’re looking for. I’ll admit we have a lot of work to do.

BII: What are the technical frustrations around mobile video? Is mobile really as complicated a landscape as people make it out to be?

DA: It is for live video. I don’t think it’s actually as complicated for video-on-demand. There’s no question that live video over the Web and even on mobile native apps — especially on Android, not so much iOs — is a big technical challenge. I think that a lot of companies that start to dive into video, especially on mobile, think of video as this big bucket. And what we’ve realised is that there are three buckets of video, and they all actually have quite different workflows and technicalities. The backends are different. There’s live 24/7, which is TV everywhere. It’s a 24/7 live linear feed that’s going all the time. There’s live ad-hoc. That’s stop and start. It ends when the game ends, and then you’re done. And the third is video on demand. Each one of those is actually quite different. The workflows are different, the way you encode is different, the way that it gets programmed. You want to present it to the consumer as seamless. But each is a different animal.

BII: To what extent have you incorporated advertising, and what challenges has that brought?

DA: The ads are the same as on TV, and sold as a package with our TV broadcast. We’re also in the process of rolling out advertising across our non-live content in August. One unique thing about video ads is that the actual watch experience, once it’s playing for a consumer, doesn’t really change whether you’re on a phone, or an iPad, or an Android tablet, or a computer. It’s the same video. The difference again is on the back end. Actually serving an ad in a live stream, that is actually very different from replacing a television ad in a 24/7 linear feed, which is very different from doing video-on-demand.

BII: What do you see as the important trends in terms of mobile video advertising?

DA: Generally, I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface. I don’t think advertisers actually know what direction they’re going to take yet.

BII: Who are the trendsetters in the space?

DA: The reality is that because they have such a loud voice, and so much influence right now, I think Twitter is really setting the stage to be an industry leader. I’m impressed by what they’ve done with the combination of buying Bluefin, creating the Nielsen rating, and putting together an experience where I’m watching TV and the commercial comes on and I go to my phone and an actual ad — assuming you’re still engaged with that particular event, especially in sports — that the in-Twitter ad that you’re seeing on your second screen is the same as the ad on TV. The advertiser can come and buy the equivalent of a roadblock across screens. I think that’s a huge opportunity.

BII: How are you positioned for that world, where ad campaigns cut across devices and screens?

DA: We’re in a unique spot, like some other sports conferences and leagues. Not only do we have a television network, mobile and Web apps — we also in some cases have in-stadium. So we actually can flow across experiences. An advertiser can come to us for a fully integrated marketing program, and that’s really at the end of the day what they care about.

BII: But will advertisers pay as much for the audience seeing their ads on a mobile phone?

DA: Why is a viewer on a mobile phone less valuable than if the same viewer is watching on a TV? That makes no sense. It’s the same content. It’s the same viewer. At some point that will change.

BII: What other changes do you see on the horizon in the next three or five years?

DA: Everyone focuses on what’s called earned media. But earned media, the way it’s defined in the advertising industry, you’re not paying for it, it’s the stuff that you get as extra. But the industry has completely shifted. If you have a conversation post-campaign with a hypothetical client, you might spend 10 minutes talking about the numbers and 50 minutes talking about the earned media. I think we’re near a point where that flips. Where somehow advertisers pay for what is now earned media, and the paid media comes with it. Now, that’s a big shift that has to happen. Not so much with the client, but with the ad agency world, because of the way it’s structured. So maybe it’ll take longer than a couple of years, but at the end of the day it’s what the clients are asking for.

BII: What will that world look like?

DA: While it’s great to show a 30-second spot, or a 15-second spot, to me that’s just one piece of it. We’ve got to be able to go to an advertiser and say, ‘you’re going to get your 30-second spot, but we’re going to integrate you with something cool around social media, and by the way if you go to the stadium there’s going to be an in-stadium campaign that ties it all together.’ It’s not about putting an ad in a mobile app per se. That’s my two cents, anyway.

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