ESPN Focuses on Data, Targeting, Reach in Pitch to Ad Buyers

In keeping with a theme prevalent throughout this advertising upfront season, ESPN emphasized the role of data, targeting, and multiplatform reach during its presentation to media buyers in New York on Tuesday morning.

The sports-media giant has entered into an audience and data agreement with the New York City area’s predominant distributor, Cablevision Systems, that will leverage the companies’ first-party, census-level audience tuning data to analyze consumer viewing habits and preferences.

The multiyear deal aspires to provide more granular and actionable data, with an eye toward identifying new audience segments and providing clients with in-campaign analysis for improved ad effectiveness. It combines ESPN’s extensive off-channel video scale from its first-party database of some 40 million users, with Cablevision’s on-channel, census-level audience tuning data derived from more than 7 million set-top boxes in the New York designated market area (DMA). All data will be maintained on an aggregated and de-identified basis. The data will also be used to inform ad sales for other services in the Disney Media Networks Group.

Ed Erhardt, president, global customer marketing and sales, ESPN, said after the presentation that the agreement for now represents a de facto exclusive relationship with Cablevision but the programmer is open to working with other distributors.

If ESPN’s “Impression” presentation positioned data as the “head,” the value of live sports programming was the heart, with numerous sizzle-reel clips of various properties and fan reactions to the exploits and memories.

Flagship program SportsCenter was also front and center with news that Scott Van Pelt, who has inked a multiyear extension, will become the solo anchor of a weekday midnight (ET) edition. Van Pelt, who will continue to host the programmer’s golf coverage, will incorporate elements of his radio show, such as “One Big Thing,” into the midnight SportsCenter, providing his spin on the events of the day.

Starting in February, ESPN will reformat the SportsCenter 7-9 a.m. hours. Designed to capture the pace of viewers on the move before heading to work and school, the new live show will trade on the “SportsCenter Top 10” segment and quickly incorporate the previous night’s top plays, storylines, quotes, miscues, and more.

As was reported by SVG and elsewhere, morning show Mike & Mike will also feature a new format. Beginning on Feb. 8, the day after Super Bowl 50, M&M, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in March, will originate from ABC’s Times Square studio. The move, transporting hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic to the Big Apple, will result in a broader selection of sports, celebrity, and entertainment guests, with Good Morning America and M&M working together on bookings. GMA legal analyst Ryan Smith and ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee will weigh in on matters affecting the action on the field.

ESPN and ABC sales executives say that, combined, cable’s top sports-news show, the medium’s leading sports morning show, and the leading morning show overall reach 71 million viewers and will prove an appealing combination to media buyers.

Erhardt and ABC Sales President Geri Wang also discussed a package, kicking off on Dec. 28 and centered on college bowl games, particularly on New Year’s Eve, that will also encompass the broadcast network’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve from Times Square.

In another pairing with its broadcast brethren, ESPN will simulcast its NFL Wild Card game on ABC. Last year, its initial step into the pro-football postseason yielded nearly 21.7 million viewers, the ninth-largest audience in cable history. The upcoming simulcast depending on the matchup — the Carolina Panthers topped the Arizona Cardinals 27-16 in the first go-round — figures to outpoint that contest with Nielsen ratings.

ESPN President John Skipper said in a press scrum after the presentation that the NFL playoff contest and The ESPYs’ move to the broadcast network does not “portend” a long-term play to reinvigorate the ABC Sports brand; the network notably presents college football and NBA action, including the finals. Rather, the moves represent “opportunities” to bolster viewership.