LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- For all the hype about cross-platform media measurement in recent years, there hasn't been much progress made. From Nielsen and Arbitron's aborted $45 million-plus market-research initiative Project Apollo, canceled in 2008, to the year-old Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, still months away from launching its first major study for its 22 members, most efforts have been slow at best.
So it's no small feat that Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN was able to pull off something of a media miracle this past summer. ESPN XP, the company's landmark research initiative launched in conjunction with the World Cup, was the first program of its kind to track event-based cross-platform media behavior in the U.S., recruiting 15 different research partners and nine major sponsors including Cisco, AT&T, Sony and Anheuser Busch. The program used methodology based on the U.K.'s TouchPoints system, regarded as the benchmark for multi-media consumption.
But if the initial goal was to measure the effectiveness of ad engagement in the World Cup, it also represents something even more -- the first real read of multiscreen content consumption, even before Nielsen issues its own combined TV-online metric later this year.
Initial findings from XP's World Cup study, to be revealed in full at the Advertising Research Federation in New York on Sept. 27, discovered that the World Cup was watched at some point by more than 160.4 million people across ESPN's platforms, or 55% of all Americans, making it the highest-rated year in the tournament's history. Oftentimes, they were watching out-of-home (50%) and on more than one screen (26%; those viewers were multiplatform, accounting for 46% of the total time spent with World Cup coverage).
They were also a chatty group, with World Cup sponsors receiving an aggregate 20% lift in word of mouth, according to word-of-mouth research firm Keller Fay Group, a percentage that matches this year's Super Bowl. Knowledge Networks also found that each of the nine sponsors received measurable increases in ad recall, message recall and purchase intent among viewers, while media measurement firm OTX discovered that brand favorability for sponsors increased among multiplatform viewers.
If those topline results seem intuitive, that's half the point. But as one of the few media companies active on five platforms -- TV, online, radio, print and mobile -- ESPN has a lot more riding on innovative measurement than most of its peers.
"Up until now, we've had no tangible or reliable accurate measures for cross-platform measurement, particularly on a single-source basis. So the only recourse we had was to develop our own models," said Artie Bulgrin, ESPN's senior VP-research and analytics. "As technology continues to grow and media continues to accelerate and become more complex, the previous models break down because they don't have the necessary accurate data to inform those models."
Other data partners include Nielsen, which fused results from a combined TV, online and mobile panel; the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, which created detailed profiles of the World Cup's internet and mobile viewers; and Walt Disney's own Media Ad Lab in Austin, Texas, where the first XP results were shared with clients last week.
Beyond benchmarks for cross-platform media behavior, ESPN also wanted to link sports viewing to ad effectiveness. Several advertisers tested different versions of creative, some directly linked to the World Cup and soccer, others using broader brand messaging. Not surprisingly, those sponsors that used sports-themed creative tended to have the best results, but each of the nine participating advertisers will be receiving custom results from ESPN's research team in the coming weeks.
Cisco had an integrated presence throughout ESPN's World Cup coverage with the use of its TelePresence face-to-face meeting technology as well as custom ads that aired throughout the tournament. Diane Dudeck, Cisco's senior director-worldwide media, sports and entertainment marketing, said the company has already seen an initial bump in awareness from its sponsorship but has yet to analyze the full results. Cisco has already signed up to be an XP-enhanced sponsor of ESPN's spring NBA coverage, and is hoping to use the World Cup findings to inform its plans.
"We're really interested to see if it proves out the interaction and integration of those different ways of communicating to the sports fan and if those were additive in terms of delivering a brand awareness bump for us," Ms. Dudeck said.
Another integrated sponsor, Anheuser-Busch, created two original programs, "Bud House" and "Man of the Match," and used XP to monitor the real-time conversation and engagement around both efforts.
"Insights from beer drinkers and sports fans are extremely valuable in helping us understand how our advertising resonates with them and develop a deeper engagement across multiple channels," said Mark Wright, VP-media, sponsorship and activation at Anheuser-Busch. "[XP] allowed us to measure the effectiveness of our brand marketing programs and will assist us in refining and enhancing future programs."
XP is already a major part of ESPN's football coverage this season, including college football, including the Bowl Championship Series, as well as the NFL. Over a dozen advertisers have signed up for XP's football metrics, including Allstate, Campbell Soup, Capital One, Dr Pepper, Geico, Home Depot, IBM, MillerCoors, Nissan, Frito-Lay's Tostitos, Toyota, Verizon Wireless and Wendy's .
Barbara Singer, ESPN's VP-advertiser insights and strategy, described XP as a bit of a calling card for football advertisers.
"One of the key things is proving the value of a football investment. It's a premium property, so what are they getting for their money?" she said. "We're doing some things that are very analytical like for World Cup, but some are more qualitative -- for college football fans, it's the passion. We're also looking more heavily at customization. Brands that sign up to do football sponsorships have a lot more bells and whistles built into their programs."