Was that an upfront or a NewFront?
ESPN's pitch to advertisers and media buyers Tuesday morning took place during TV's annual upfront week, when the biggest TV networks present their schedules to advertisers and media buyers. But its digital properties played such a big role that the event could have easily fit into the online players' recent bid to capture TV dollars with pitches they dubbed the NewFront.
"Not all fans look the same, act the same or consume media in the same way," Eric Johnson, ESPN's exec VP-multimedia sales, told the crowd at the Best Buy Theater in New York. "We have massive scale, but that doesn't mean we don't target a specific consumer."
ESPN is aiming to provide advertisers with more targeted reach through digital properties, which include espnW, a platform dedicated to engaging female sports fans; a new ESPN radio app for the iPhone and iPad; ESPNFC, a global soccer destination; Grantland's YouTube channel; and a partnership with Twitter that will start with the NBA Finals.
The network also said Watch ESPN, the authenticated TV Everywhere app introduced last year, is now in 40 million homes. ESPN predicted that figure would double by 2013.
"Whether we televise the game or not, there is an audience consuming it via ESPN platforms," said Sean Bratches, exec VP-sales and marketing.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, Mr. Bratches said. ESPN is working with companies including Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft to further expand the offerings. "Young males spend more time consuming media" on Xbox than playing video games," he said.
ESPN is making content for these digital platforms, reviving the "30 to 30" franchise with "30 for 30 Shorts," which will roll out monthly on Grantland, the sports-plus -pop-culture site created by sports journalist Bill Simmons.
To visualize just how advertisers can partner with its various digital platforms, ESPN presented three case studies from partners Gatorade, Goodyear and Diageo.
Gatorade partnered with ESPN across multiple screens in an effort to embrace female athletes and moms, an audience that ESPN is making a concerted effort to tap into with espnW. This includes "Nine for IX," a series of nine documentary films about women in sports in celebration of Title IX's 40th anniversary.
Diageo's Peter McDonough said via a video clip that the marketer used ESPN as a bridge to connect with Hispanics across screens in both English and Spanish.
Goodyear said that it is generally outspent in media so turned to ESPN to amplify its media spend.
ESPN isn't concerned about speculation regarding emerging competition, President John Skipper said, referring to rumors that Fox may be preparing to announce its own national cable sports network. Comcast is already working on developing the NBC Sports Network into a more potent cable competitor.
Ed Erhardt, ESPN's president-customer marketing and sales, predicted that sports will be the No. 1 buy in this year's upfronts.
Sports stars attending the upfront event included Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis, New York Giant Justin Tuck, New York Knick Tyson Chandler and Nascar driver Carl Edwards.
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