Upfront Notebook: New Scoreboard Puts ESPN Ahead

Sports net wants sponsors to pay for out-of-home, streaming viewers

With its well-publicized issues with declining subscribers, ESPN is looking for other ways to boost the audiences it sells advertisers.

At its upfront Tuesday morning, President John Skipper said the network has begun counting its out of home viewers and adding it to it ratings. It also talked about how many viewers—particularly young ones—it was getting via its Watch ESPN streaming app.

In a changing media landscape, TV network are working to make sure all of their viewers get counted and monetized. ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne spoke about this in his own, inimitable fashion, (see below) as did Skipper

“We’re excited about the idea we’re going to measure our whole audience,” Skipper said during a scrum with reporters after the presentation.

“Watch ESPN brings us just to SportsCenter a 3% bump on our ratings. We’ll release out of home and you’re going to see some very dramatic out-of-home numbers for ESPN,” he said. “Those numbers will be incorporated into our sales estimates immediately and they will be part of the Nielsen numbers starting in ’17.”

The idea isn’t new. Turner Broadcasting started pushing to have out-of-home viewing included in its ratings for ad sales purposed in 2010. Last year, its fusion of out of home ratings with traditional ratings passed muster with the Media Rating Council.

Skipper said that adding out-of-home viewing adds about 6%-7% to ESPN’s audience. For college football, the bump is 12% to 14% and it’s even more for College Game Day.

“The data will have a very specific breakdown of where the viewing happens. Bars, restaurants, dorm rooms, fraternity rooms, gyms,” he said.

ESPN expects that it will take time for advertisers to accept out of home viewing as part of their ad delivery. “I think over time they will understand that those eyeballs count just as much as the others,” Skipper said. “There will be an outstanding discussion probably over a couple of years. But Nielsen is going to build them into the ratings, so they will be a part of the currency.”

Watch ESPN also adds significantly to ESPN’s audience. When Michigan State beat Michigan last season on a last-second fumbled punt, 700,000 people were watching via live stream, according to Wendell Scott, senior VP, multimedia ad sales at ESPN.

On the average college football Saturday, there are 2 million college football live streams. The night the Warriors set an NBA record of 73 wins and Kobe Bryant ended his career with a 60 point night, streaming added 1 million unique viewers to ESPN.

Scott said that 60% of live streaming now takes place on smart TV screens. In late night “an increasingly important time to reach young men, we’re seeing significant spikes in usage,” he added.

“ESPN live streaming is young, affluent and culturally diverse,” he said.  “A large, valuable incremental add to your reach. Who in this audience doesn’t want that?”

And, he added, “you’re going to see increase effectiveness when you add live streaming to your mix.”

ESPN sells streaming views as part of some of its programming, but sells it separately at other times.