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ESPN Leverages Online Consumers

Oct 21, 2007  •  Post A Comment

ESPN, which last week made a groundbreaking cross-platform audience measurement deal with the Nielsen Co., will be taking a close look at consumer behavior online during its “Monday Night Football.”
“Monday Night Football” household ratings are down on cable, but ESPN has seen a spike in usage of NFL content on ESPN.com during games.
ESPN has been among the leaders in selling multiplatform advertising packages to marketers. While on­line ad revenue growth overall is estimated to be between 15 percent and 25 percent, ESPN.com’s revenue growth is estimated at more than 30 percent per year. Now the sports network hopes to use the new Nielsen data to sell marketers packages of commercials on cable and ads that run online while the game is on.
“It’s an incredible kind of aggregation of two high-profile mediums—television and the Internet. Very few shows can create an additional huge live viewing audience online, and ‘Monday Night Football’ is one of the few that can,” said Ed Er­hardt, president of ESPN ABC Sports customer marketing and sales.
On Oct. 8, when the Dallas Cowboys played the Buffalo Bills on “MNF,” ESPN.com registered 37 million page views, up 46 percent from the comparable day a year ago. While the game was on, the site scored 11 million page views, up 102 percent from a year ago.
“Clearly you’re talking about big, big numbers here, and I think it has huge implications for how live events, particularly sports events, are going to be viewed in the future,” Mr. Erhardt said.
Football watchers are logging in more often, partly because more of them have wireless Internet access, allowing them to use a laptop while sitting in front of the TV, Mr. Erhardt said.
As the last game of the week, “MNF” can be the difference between victory and de­feat for millions of fantasy football teams, and fantasy players can get updated statistics on the site, he added.
Mr. Er­hardt says mar­keters also can take ad­van­tage of the situation.
ESPN already is generating millions of dollars of online revenue from “MNF”-related programming, and about 45 percent of its “MNF” TV deals in­volve online com­po­nents, including those of Verizon Wireless and GMC, who are key “MNF” sponsors on multiple platforms. But marketers may not be getting the full effect of the multiple media.
“I don’t know, quite frankly, if the advertisers are thinking yet about how the creative can work together during that live window, and that’s the next thing we’re going to come out to advertisers with,” Mr. Erhardt said.
The network plans to create an online unit to appear only during “MNF” telecasts, which would work with TV ads that run during the game.
Larry No­ven­stern, head of broadcast and exec VP/joint managing di­rec­tor of Optimedia’s integrated buying and planning unit, said the online data “would give you a better understanding of the return on investment if you knew the [extent of] co-viewing.”
The new Nielsen data, drawn from varied sources, aims to show how viewers move between media. It will enable ESPN to ascertain the unduplicated reach of ESPN video on TV, ESPN.com and ESPN Mobile.
“Now we can truly demonstrate the huge impact and audience we’re creating both in television and online in the in-game window and [talk about] what the advertising potentially should be like in both of those environments and how can they work together to create more engagement on the part of the viewer or the user,” Mr. Erhardt said.

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