ESPN still the multimedia king

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The Player: ESPN/ABC Sports

Key Executive: Ed Erhardt, president, ABC Sports and ESPN Ad Sales and Marketing

The Ratings Game: ESPN remains the must-buy for any sports or male-targeting advertiser. It dropped a tenth of a rating point between full year 2004 and 2005-from .8 to .7 among adults 18-to-49-but held steady at .5 season to date 2006 vs. the same period the year before. (ESPN always rates higher later in the year, thanks to the NFL and Major League Baseball playoffs.) While ABC Sports doesn't have the Super Bowl to sell this year, the "Monday Night Football" franchise will move from broadcast to ESPN, keeping the upfront busy for the sales execs. Additionally, ESPN over the past year signed the rights to Nascar in an eight-year, $2.16 billion deal.

What you'll hear: "If it's aired live, it's viewed live," which is an important point as the time-shifted ratings debate wages on. ESPN pioneered the idea of multimedia upfront selling-despite occasional complaints from buyers that they feel coerced into swallowing multiple properties-and this year the network expects 60% of its $2 million-plus deals to contain multiple media. "We're happy to lead the industry in this sojourn," Mr. Erhardt said. High on the list will be a new customizable video player called "Scream," which launches in June, and a big push around fantasy sports.

Last year's upfront: Sports was the strongest category, notching price increases of about 6%. ESPN/ABC Sports typically sells about 50% to 60% of its inventory during the upfront period.

The buyer's verdict: "We did a deal with ESPN for Dial for Men and they ended up getting the business because the strength of the integration," said Ray Katz, director-sports marketing, OMD. "They're seeing success working with groups who are both involved with buying sports media and sports marketing sponsorships and they're starting to build some good case studies."
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