TV Upfront

ESPN Upfront: Sports Means Never Having to Chase Time-Shifted Viewers

The Sports Network Emphasizes its Reach Among Live Audiences

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Fox used its upfront presentation to ad buyers yesterday to argue that live ratings are no longer indicative of how many people watch shows like "New Girl" and "The Following." ESPN used its upfront on Tuesday to suggest, essentially, that advertisers don't need to worry about time-shifted viewing -- because sports still gets audiences to watch live.

Nobody is watching 'SportsCenter' three days later -- and that's part of ESPN's pitch.
Nobody is watching 'SportsCenter' three days later -- and that's part of ESPN's pitch.

"There's no genre performing better than sports in this fragmented, cluttered marketplace," said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN's global customer marketing and sales, at the network's event at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square.

In other highlights:

Newcomers to 24/7 sports: President John Skipper addressed the elephant in the room early on. "There's speculation ESPN's world is changing, just because several broadcast competitors decided in early 2010 that there's something here," he said, referring to the spate of new 24/7 sports networks, including News Corp.'s upcoming Fox Sports 1 and NBC Universal's NBC Sports Network. "We like competition," Mr. Skipper said. "It makes us better, sharper." It helps, of course, that so many big sports rights are tied up with existing players for years down the line.

New shows, new studio: ESPN introduced two new daily studio shows: "NFL Insiders," a one-hour football-themed show, and "ESPNFC," an ESPN2 show dedicated to soccer. It also gave the audience a look at its new "SportsCenter" studio, a 10,000 square-foot space at headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

Going deeper with Twitter: ESPN is expanding its relationship with Twitter. Following its experiment with posting video highlights from college football on Twitter, ESPN will now show highlights of soccer matches leading into the World Cup and the X Games.

The SportsCenter bus is open for sponsorship: Lest the relevance of all this be lost on the ad buyers in the crowd, ESPN weaved client testimonials throughout its presentation, as it has the past two go-rounds. This year, we heard from Cheez-It, Macy's and Subway. And ESPN talked up its new SportsCenter bus, complete with a mobile studio, which will travel to sporting events to allow for on-air feeds. ESPN is currently looking for brands to feature on the bus.

Tech and digital: ESPN used the event to introduce a new "SportsCenter" app, which aside from showing scores will include a feed of breaking new, articles, videos and live tweets from ESPN talent. It also talked up the two new ad executions that resulted from its first international Hackathon devoted to ad innovation: GameBreak, a video ad integration into ESPN's GameCast feature, and ESPN Alerts, which take advantage of the 80 million alerts ESPN sends on a monthly basis.

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