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Songs for Screens: Super Bowl Synchs Are Roaring Toward a 25% Revenue Increase for Top Publishers

“Songs for Screens” (formerly known as “Synch This”) is a Variety column written by Andrew Hampp, a VP at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents and former branding correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as new and catalog songs that we deem ripe for synch use.

The Super Bowl isn’t just the biggest event in sports or TV ratings, with over 111 million people tuning into the 2017 telecast. It’s also the most lucrative event of the year for music licenses, with synch revenue at the top four music publishers up as high as 25% year-over-year. Pricing for individual synchs this year is varying from $100,000 to upwards of $750,000, depending on length of use, previous licenses for the song and notoriety of the artist.

“Volume’s up, revenue’s up no question – the only difference we’re seeing this year is it’s not the one-year deal anymore,” says Brian Monaco, president and global chief marketing officer of Sony/ATV, who already has Carly Simon’s Bond theme “Nobody Does It Better” secured as the finale of Amazon’s all-star 90-second Alexa commercial and writer clients’ Lieber and Stoller featured in Budweiser’s cover of “Stand by Me.” “Some of them are one-time airings, some of them are 15 days. Everyone is capitalizing on online a few days before the Super Bowl, the Super Bowl itself and then adding options in the deals to say, ‘If it’s great, we’ll keep airing it.’”

Yet with The Big Game just two days away, many publishing execs report that crucial synch deals for a few spots have yet to be finalized. “Usually we’re locked in around the Tuesday before, but here we are the Thursday before and I know at least two spots I’m hoping to confirm,” says Tom Eaton, senior VP of music for advertising at Universal Music Publishing Group, which already helped secure Keith Sweat’s “Nobody” for the Rebel Wilson segment of Amazon’s all-star spot, as well as the Busta Rhymes portion of Doritos’ “Look at Me Now” synch featuring Peter Dinklage.

One of those two unsecured spots, Eaton adds, wasn’t even filmed until last weekend. “These commercials are so important to brands that they’ll come at the last second with an idea they think is brilliant. So in our situation, last night [the client was] presenting their choices to the powers that be. And then there’s other situations where maybe there’s an issue with something in the commercial that have to lock in for the commercial itself.”

This year’s game will also have lots of first-time or second-time advertisers from the tech and streaming space, which has helped boost the marketplace’s health. “As we see content creators and distributors of content and consumer goods morph into one, it’s great that we’re seeing entities that didn’t exist becoming prominent players,” says Ron Broitman, exec VP – head of synchronization at Warner/Chappell, who secured four brand synchs in 2017 and is “90% locked” on this year’s deals. “

As brands build in more wiggle room to their Super Bowl plans to move at the speed of culture, some clients even went to the length of filming multiple versions of their 2018 commercials featuring different music licenses to see which tested better internally before airing. “We’re not sure which they’re going to air until the last minute,” says Jeannette Perez, president of global synch and brand partnerships at Kobalt Music, who is hoping to top the seven synchs she secured for Kobalt clients last year. “You’re seeing advertisers looking for songs an artist that aligns with their brand campaigns and people utilizing music in a way that is mutually beneficial for everybody involved.”

That includes a big bump in the use of hip-hop music as well as artists themselves appearing on-camera to reflect the urban genre’s commercial takeover in 2017. Cardi B, Missy Elliott and Iggy Azalea are among the artists already confirmed to be soundtracked and/or starring in Super Bowl spots this year, with at least one additional male rapper expected to make a surprise brand cameo come Sunday night. “Given where urban and rhythmic music is in the popular landscape, it makes total sense,” Kobalt’s Perez says of hip-hop Super Bowl takeover. “The audience has expanded much further than where it used to be 10 years ago. It’s become the mainstream audience.”

Still, expect lots of new and unexpected usages of well-known rock and catalog songs to drum up nostalgia and emotions – a strategy that has become a staple of Budweiser’s recent Super Bowl work in particular. This year’s spot features Interscope recording artist Skyler Grey covering the Ben E. King staple “Stand by Me” for a spot dedicated to the beer brand’s disaster efforts in providing water to communities in need.

Josh Rabinowitz, exec VP-director of music at Grey Townhouse WPP, which produced the NFL’s award-winning “Super Bowl Babies” parody cover of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” in 2016, calls this method the “goosebumps-on-the-back-of-your-neck” route.” “When [it] works during the Super Bowl, the payoff is huge – immense impressions combined with a unique cultural statement and a grand slam for the brand,” he says.

Stay tuned to Songs For Screens on Super Bowl Sunday night, when we’ll have a complete recap of the big synchs during this year’s game.

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