Three years ago, the top sales chiefs from ABC and ESPN stood on stage together at each other's upfront presentation, signalling to advertisers that they were willing to do deals across the two networks.
This year, ABC and ESPN parent Walt Disney is extending that partnership by offering some marketers the opportunity to also incorporate its movie studio, consumer products and on-the-ground activations at its theme parks, for example, as part of an all-encompassing ad buy.
Branded as the "Disney Difference," the idea is to lure marketers with the combined arsenal of Walt Disney assets, intellectual property and data.
"This is a time where brand and environment and quality matter," said Ed Erhardt, ESPN's president of global sales and marketing, who was part of the initial combo pitch in 2014 along with Geri Wang, ABC's president of ad sales at the time.
It's a move on the part of the company to drive a bigger investment from marketers, who are increasingly looking to do fewer deals at a larger scale. And it comes as all eyes are on Disney's media networks, especially ESPN, amid rising costs for sports rights and accelerating cord cutting.
It's not unprecedented for network groups to offer marketers anything in their cabinets, including talent and creators, to build a comprehensive media campaign.
The real difference is the ability to move beyond media buys and incorporate brands at red carpets, movie premieres and on-field on game day, said Rita Ferro, president-ad sales, Disney-ABC TV Group,
Earlier this year, Disney-ABC TV Group reorganized to put its ad sales under one umbrella, upping Ferro, who previously served as head of ad sales for Disney Media, to oversee ad sales for the entire portfolio, which includes ABC, Disney Channel, Freeform and Radio Disney. But ESPN's ad sales continue to operate separately.
Disney is looking to do more deals like its recent program to promote the Nissan Rogue in conjunction with "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." Aside from Nissan's overall buy with the studio, Disney integrated the Rogue into "Good Morning America," "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and its Force for Change charity toy donation for the holidays. Stars from ABC shows like "The Goldbergs" and "Dr. Ken" got involved.
ABC-owned stations also aired extended coverage of the introduction of Nissan's "Star Wars"-edition Rogue at the Los Angeles Auto Show. And the Rogue became the official sponsor of ESPN's College Football Playoff.
By formalizing the offering, Erhardt said Disney is looking to take buys like that beyond one-off ideas. Still, the opportunity will be limited to a few dozen partners, he said. "I don't think this is something we will do with 60 companies."
Ferro said it's important to have these conversations from the get-go, rather than bolting on TV elements after a brand makes a buy with the movie studio, for example.
For Nissan, the partnership helped make Rogue the company's biggest brand, overtaking Altima, said Jeremy Tucker, VP-marketing communications and media at Nissan. It also helped drive a 53% increase in sales of Rogue in December 2016.
"Today with big media being so fragmented we had a challenge to drive awareness of this model versus the competition and break through at the auto show," Tucker said. "We had a lower awareness than our competition so we had to think differently."
Tucker said a partnership like this allows Nissan to leave "many breadcrumbs and trails" that can lead consumers to it, and then allow them to go as deep or as shallow as they want.