ESPN Plans Massive Cross-Platform Research on World Cup

One of the Most Ambitious Efforts Yet to Measure Media Consumption Around One Sporting Event

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NEW YORK ( -- The World Cup may not be a big deal for most U.S. sports fans, but for the barely developed science of cross-platform media measurement, it could turn into the biggest event ever.

ESPN said the ultimate goal of the World Cup research is to create a system to measure cross-media audiences year-round by 2012.
ESPN said the ultimate goal of the World Cup research is to create a system to measure cross-media audiences year-round by 2012. Credit: AP
In one of the most ambitious efforts yet to measure all media consumption and some of the attendant impact from a single sporting event, ESPN has assembled four research companies and the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative for an exhaustive look at the FIFA World Cup South Africa in June.

NBC recently commissioned its own ambitious look at TV, internet and mobile viewership of the recent Winter Olympics, but the ESPN XP initiative at least rivals that effort and includes a number of research firsts. It will, for example, commission the first commercial use of Nielsen's electronic mobile panel, which passively collects mobile media usage such as video stops and starts.

ESPN XP also for the first time will try the U.K.'s TouchPoints cross-platform media-measurement system, originally developed by Institute of Practitioners in Advertising but licensed to the Media Behavior Institute as part of its USA TouchPoints system. TouchPoints has generated growing interest among U.S. researchers, including participants in the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, as a method for quantifying unduplicated cross-platform audience reach.

To that end, the Media Behavior Institute earlier this month announced an agreement with Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI) to collect data based on its magazine readership panel, and will use a panel equipped with iPhones specially adapted to function only as electronic diaries of media consumption.

Media Behavior Institute CEO Bill Moult said it appears to be the first U.S. use of iPhones as media diaries. The smartphones have proved to be so easy to use, he said, that panelists so far have largely skipped the tutorials and waded into inputting data.

In a presentation at the Advertising Research Foundation Re:Think Convention in New York on Monday, Artie Bulgrin, senior VP research and analytics of ESPN, said that what is learned from the World Cup would be applied similarly this fall to NCAA and NFL football and to other sports in 2011, with the ultimate goal of creating a system to measure cross-media audiences year-round by 2012.

Ultimately, he said, ESPN hopes to create a system that would be open to audit by the Media Rating Council and for use as a currency in buying and selling cross-platform media deals.

It's an ambitious agenda, given that cross-media measurement remains largely in the pilot and discussion stages at this point. The Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, launched with much fanfare last year with participation by major media agencies and companies and big advertisers such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever, has so far done mainly preparatory work, such as compiling a standard industry lexicon and set of standards for collection of TV set-top box data.

Among the research company participants, Knowledge Networks will mirror the work of the Media Behavior Institute to an extent by measuring weekly and total exposure to the World Cup across all platforms, including live, time-shifted and out-of home. Keller Fay Group will measure changes in the volume and tone of word-of-mouth conversations related to brands sponsoring ESPN World Cup content. Nielsen Co. will, in addition to the electronic mobile monitoring, provide a fusion of TV, web and mobile also using its s TV and online measurement panels.

The Wharton Interactive Media Initiative will collect and analyze ESPN's internet and mobile server data to take a different look and prepare a separate analysis of digital audiences for the World Cup.

"We're going to learn a lot of great things," said Glenn Enoch, VP integrated media research of ESPN. "We're going to learn a lot of things that don't work, which is also going to be interesting to advertisers."

ESPN also will be looking at which media and combination of media push purchase-intent numbers higher, though it's not taking the additional step yet of linking that to actual sales data.

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