ESPN experimented with a couple different placements for the
pilot test with Dick's Sporting Goods. The retailer's series --
about a high-school football team during the grueling preseason
practice week -- appeared in the WatchESPN app's main "featured"
carousel alongside entries for sports programming like the U.S.
Open and world basketball championship as well as in a lower placed
"ESPN Presents" section. Wherever the program appeared, it carried
a Dick's Sporting Goods logo to denote it as branded content.
The branded series ran within WatchESPN for two weeks, but Mr.
Erhardt and Dick's Sporting Goods VP-Brand Marketing Ryan Eckel
declined to share results like how many people watched the
"We know we're extending the reach beyond broadcast," Mr. Eckel
said, describing the viewership numbers as "significant." He
declined to say how much the brand paid ESPN for the campaign,
noting that it was part of a larger, multi-platform advertising
deal with the cable network. Dick's Sporting Goods worked with its
agency Optimum Sports on the deal.
Dick's Sporting Goods has produced three seasons of "Hell Week"
with Tribeca Digital Studios. The first season streamed on YouTube,
and the second season aired on ESPN as a standalone half-hour
program. For the third season ESPN and Dick's Sporting Goods cut up
the series into five four-minute segments that aired during
SportsCenter over five days. But running the program during
SportsCenter meant its audience was limited to whoever was watching
the sports newscast at any given time (or whoever recorded it and
watched it later). The retailer said it wanted to discuss
distribution on ESPN's digital properties, specifically
"We pushed for that placement because we want that content to be
there. We believe it's legitimately engaging content alongside
other content on ESPN and WatchESPN," Mr. Eckel said. He added,
"ultimately we're trying to produce something that isn't really an
ad and doesn't feel like an ad to consumers."
ESPN is looking to hold other brands to the same standard as it
pitches more advertisers on the WatchESPN placement. That may be a
turn-off for some brands who just want to take their 30-second TV
ads and paste them into WatchESPN's home page. But it's also a way
for ESPN to turn those brands on to working with its in-house
creative agency ESPN CreativeWorks. "We think we've got a pretty
good handle on how to do [branded content] in sports with
CreativeWorks…. We want to play in the space. If you want to
create content around sports, you can do it with ESPN," Mr. Erhardt
ESPN is still working out the details of its plans for how
brands can distribute their content within WatchESPN. For example,
it hasn't gotten to a point where it's looking to require that an
advertiser's video be of a certain length. And it's considering
expanding the WatchESPN placement for brands into an always-on
destination similar to a YouTube channel, Mr. Erhardt said.
"At least in the beginning our belief is to be steady, be smart
and be sure that the kinds of content we put up there feel right
and are right. We're not looking to have thirty different brands up
there [at the same time]," Mr. Erhardt said.
ESPN is "in discussions with a bunch of folks right now," Mr.
Erhardt said, declining to name names or say whether any deals have
been signed. Asked if WatchESPN will have any advertisers taking up
the WatchESPN native ad slot later this year, he said, "my sense is
we'll have a few people taking advantage."