ESPN Keeps Clock Running on Cross-Media-Measurement Study

Two Years Into Ongoing Survey, Sports-Media Titan Begins Offering Access to Advertisers

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Hoops fans have their eyes and ears glued to the NBA playoffs, and that's good news for sponsors of the games, who garner 11% higher unaided brand awareness among avid fans during playoff season. The number comes from ESPN, but it's based on more than just a playoff season study; rather, it highlights a new approach to measuring ads across ESPN media.

The company has just begun to seed its roster of advertisers with new proprietary measurement data it hopes will help score more brand dollars across its television, digital, radio and print properties. Known as Convergence Effectiveness Modeling, the program combines information gleaned from an ongoing controlled-survey of people who consume ESPN content and some who don't.

The goal is to show ROI for ad campaigns and help advertisers measure ad effectiveness, benchmark against other advertisers in their category, and plan budgets according to impact on audiences across channels. The sports media powerhouse has conducted cross-platform research for a "number of years now," according to Barbara Singer, ESPN's VP-advertiser insights and strategy. What's new is the continual nature of this research.

Rather than merely measuring results cross-platform in relation to a particular sporting event, as was often the approach in the past, the new system allows ESPN to gather data on consumers on a perpetual basis. This allows the company to understand ad impact and exposure over time and track metrics according to purchase intent, ad awareness, word-of-mouth related to brands, and fandom.

"What we realized is that we needed something that was beyond one event and something that would go year round," said Ms. Singer. "Different sports have diff dynamics in terms of how fans consume."

ESPN asks survey participants about 24 brands across five advertiser categories; a few of the brands monitored are not current ESPN advertisers, according to Ms. Singer. The company works with market research company SSRS, which conducts online surveys and layers in data from phone surveys every six months to recalibrate models. Both sports-media consumers as well as people who have not been exposed to ESPN content are included in the studies, which use non-sports nuts as a control group.

The company began the survey process in August 2012, using a random cross-section of respondents. On top of the survey data, information about advertiser ad schedules with ESPN, media-spending data from third party sources, and data showing whether campaigns are producing a word-of-mouth effect. Social and search data is coming, said Ms. Singer.

ESPN just started showing off the data to clients a month ago. For now, it is offering them only a combined view of all the ad campaigns measured, so individual advertisers will not see information specific to their own campaigns. They will get insight on how 15-second spots perform compared to 30-second ads, for instance, in addition to information on mobile ad impact and which campaign flight strategies perform best for certain goals.

The survey data has led to a different type of conversation with ad clients, said Ms. Betron, in part because the research can influence how advertisers allocate budget across media. "We're now in a dialogue that's a much more a consultative dialogue."

As advertisers clamor for cross-media measurement, ESPN certainly is not alone in its quest. Nielsen conducted a test of its own approach to providing a view across television, desktop and mobile during the Sochi Winter Games in February. The firm will begin combining mobile viewing ratings with television ratings in the autumn.

Because its research is in the early stages, ESPN would not share many distinct trends emerging from the data. However, according to Patricia Betron, ESPN's VP-multimedia sales, the firm determined that digital video boosts effectiveness for any metric at a more rapid pace compared to TV, and mobile video works especially fast.

"We have quite a long list of questions that we'd like to dive in and start to answer," said Ms. Singer.

Data incorporated into the model includes seasonal sports insights. For instance, we can see the longitudinal effects of unaided brand awareness over the course of the NBA season. In this example, we can see that the campaign of an official NBA sponsor pays dividends year round vs. non-sports fans, but is especially valuable during the playoffs. This connection is primarily driven by avid fans when they are most engaged with the game.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the ESPN measurement offering is called XP Tracker. Also, while the initiative was begun in 2011, ESPN started fielding the study in 2012.

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