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ESPN Shows It Can Keep Score in Digital

As sports become a bigger part of the online world, ESPN is going to the NewFronts to tell its digital story. While digital has long been an integral part of the advertising ESPN sells to clients, these days, “there just isn’t enough time in the regular upfront to give it the level of prominence it needs,” Travis Howe, senior VP, Platform Ad Sales Strategy & Global Operations at ESPN, said.

In the last year or so, Howe said, there has a big shift in the way sports drives traffic online, to say nothing of the growing amount of big-bucks sports being live streamed by digital players including Twitter and Amazon.

“Because we’re the worldwide leader in sports, because we engage with 85.1 million unique users a month, because we are the largest at scale and reach, we think it’s really important that we spend some time in front of the ad community talking about how sports is influencing the digital ecosystem and what we see the future to be, particularly as it relates to telling stories about the game, in the game and around the game,” Howe said. “This is an important year to talk about sports in digital.”

[ESPN Makes Direct-to-Consumer Pitch With ESPN+]

ESPN sees the NewFronts as a place to talk to digital buyers and agency buyers who buy video on both traditional TV, online and over-the-top, Howe said.

With ratings for NFL football down, ESPN saw 153% growth on digital football content that appeared before and after games, Howe noted. For advertisers looking to reach a target audience at scale, that makes ESPN a perfect complement to television, he said. College football is also hot at ESPN. As a result, digital buyers are moving to get their money down earlier.

ESPN will also be talking about its new direct-to-consumer service, ESPN+. ESPN+ brings sports fans more content, more sports, more leagues and more live streaming. It also features an “innovated ad experience,” Howe said. The ad load now is low, and ESPN intends to keep it that way. “It is an opportunity for advertisers to get involved in new ways of communication to their consumers.”

That could mean a number of things, he said, including six-second ads, sequenced ads, content integration opportunities, ways to provide limited interruptions and commercialfree experiences. “It is very much going to be an environment where advertisers want to partner with us to experiment with ad innovation in arguably the least cluttered sports environment available,” Howe said.

ESPN+ will also be providing a more personalized experience for sports fans. The experience will factor in the viewer’s preferences and the device that’s being used. That makes it “the perfect environment to first start with delivering on the best stories around sports on the sports that our fans want,” Howe said. “In addition to that, it does allow us to respond to their preferences in unique ways when it relates to advertising.”

Going direct-to-consumer will enable ESPN to say why it is producing certain shows.

“We believe we have an obligation to talk about not only the compelling stories we tell around sports, but why we tell them, and the insights that we have on knowing what to tell when to tell it and how to tell that story,” he said.