NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As the Walt Disney Co. begins to embrace YouTube and Hulu, ESPN has integrated its own video player on YouTube on July 15, as well as the first network to offer pre-roll advertising on the video site. The deal was just one of the multiplatform milestones the sports cable network announced at its upfront presentation to advertisers at New York's Nokia Theater today.
The "New Markets of Time" was the phrase given to ESPN's aggressive programming strategies across its cable, online, radio, magazine, mobile and broadband properties, designed to give equal value to sports fans that catch their favorite teams online during the workday as to those who watch on TV in prime time.
"We're programming dayparts as if ESPN.com was a new network," Sean Bratches, ESPN's exec VP-sales and marketing, told the crowd. "We want to make ESPN and our partners' brands available to fans in every conceivable way."
Even more sports
ESPN will soon have even more big-ticket games to program its various screens with new, exclusive deals for the FIFA World Cup and the Bowl Championship Series and all four rounds of the British Open signed up for 2010. With rights to all four of tennis' grand slams, ESPN will unveil "Love 30," a new online feature for August's U.S. Open coverage that allows fans can catch up with coverage from the last 30 minutes of highlights on ESPN.com and ESPN Mobile.
Also newly inked are deals with Comcast to distribute ESPN360.com, ESPN's broadband video site, across the top cable operator's 17 million broadband subscriber base, putting ESPN360 in more than 40 million of the 60 million broadband homes by the fall. Additionally, college-based sibling ESPNU will be distributed by Comcast and DirecTV, making it available to a total 46 million subscribers.
Mr. Bratches told Ad Age that ESPN cuts 70% to 75% of its upfront deals based on multiple platforms, a ratio that he anticipates to increase this year. "We're selling more ideas than schedules, and ideas that include multimedia," he said.
Jeremy Carey, director-sports media for Omnicom agency Optimum Sports, liked the presentation's emphasis on screens. "The majority of our buying entails multiple platforms. Very little buying we do now is just TV," he said. YouTube, however, remains heretofore uncharted territory for clients that don't want to be associated with less-than-professional content. "We'll see what they do with it," Mr. Carey said of ESPN's upcoming channel.
ESPN enters the upfront in a stronger position than last year. Ratings were up 3% season to date, making it the third highest-rated cable network, with adults 25 to 54 and women 18 to 49 showing the biggest gains. In 2008, it took a big hit from the financial woes of General Motors and Chrysler, which spent 24.5% and 35.5% less on the network, according to TNS Media Intelligence. ESPN grossed $1.54 billion in ad revenue in 2008, a 0.1% decrease from 2007.
"We're a very good buy if you want to reach adults, making that case because the women we reach as part of that adult buy are generally light TV watchers, hard to reach, upscale and not easy to find when you're buying a traditional broadcast prime time environment," said Ed Erhardt, ESPN's president-customer marketing and sales.
One more screen ESPN is looking to add to its arsenal is the big screen. ESPN Films will make the festival circuits with documentaries such as the Peabody Award-winning "Black Magic" and Spike Lee's "Kobe Doin Work." This October, the network will premiere "30 for 30," a series of documentaries chronicling some of the biggest stories in ESPN's 30 years on air, told by filmmakers such as Peter Berg, Ron Shelton, Brett Morgen and Barry Levinson. The films will air with limited commercial interruption and will help defend the "E" in ESPN competitors like Spike have made in-roads in sharing.
"The films are another way to reach people who are passionate about sports, and to be expository in our storytelling put facts down in a linear fashion. Sometimes in the world we live in things move kind of quickly," Keith Clinkscales, ESPN's senior VP-content development and enterprises, told Ad Age. "It takes a great deal of work to cover all the happenings in sports, and every now and then it's great to take a moment to look at someone's stories career and pause."