ESPN Experiments With ABC ‘Look-Ins’

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Can promotions on ESPN or ESPN2 drive viewers to college football games on Disney sibling ABC?
That was one of the questions behind an experiment over the weekend that, if deemed successful, may be extended through the rest of the college football season.
Producers of “College GameDay,” a pre-game show filled with sports news and features hammocked between college football games on ESPN2 on Saturday, were scheduled to show one or two plays from regional afterno on games being broadcast on sibling ABC. The “GameDay” talent were expected to tell ESPN2 viewers that those games were available on local ABC stations or on ESPN GamePlan, which is offered (for $14.99 per day or $119 per season) on satellite carriers DirecTV and DISH Network and through some digital cable systems.
The live “look-ins” during the network games, as well as a sampling of pre-game color, were suggested by ESPN producers trying to beef up the content of “GameDay.” They were seen by ABC executives as another opportunity to test cross-promotional possibilities between the broadcast network and ESPN.
To run the test, ABC had to ask for a variance from the ABC Affiliates Association board of governors, which helped design limits for the experiment. That was required because under the NFL cost-sharing plan signed last year by ABC and affiliates, any repurposing of any live sports is prohibited.
For the test, the look-ins are to be limited and they cannot be commercially sponsored on ESPN or ESPN2. They are not to be promoted in a way that might lure viewers to ESPN rather than to the college games on ABC, and they cannot take place within the final four minutes of a network game. Additionally, games would be blacked out on GamePlan in markets where the ABC affiliate has the exclusive.
The network and members of the affiliates board will talk this week about the test. If both sides agree, the experiment will continue through this season. There is reason for all involved to be in a cooperative mood. So far this season ABC’s college football ratings are up about 10 percent.
Sources at the local level say some of their fellow station executives are suspicious that the test might be an unwitting step onto a slippery slope with regard to repurposing, but that they agreed to go along as a demonstration of partnership with the network.
In response to concerns that this plan promotes GamePlan, network sources noted that the package already is frequently mentioned on ESPN and ESPN2 and that its availability is limited. “What’s in it for whom?” was the repeatedly heard question from affiliates at large, who received notice of the test from ABC last week.
Quite possibly “increased viewership for the ABC affiliates,” said affiliates board Chairman and Young Broadcasting executive Deb McDermott.