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ESPN, CNN, Scripps, NBC Putting Media/Marketing Integration Upfront

Posted by Mort Greenberg on May 16, 2008

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By Dorian Benkoil and Jack Myers

Eight months after being announced, Nielsen’s TV/Internet Convergence Panel, launched with ESPN, has gathered a large enough sample to track combined TV and digital media consumption for the sports network. The panel of some 1,000 participants is intended to correlate usage across platforms, including TV, the Internet and mobile. The initiative is just one step in networks’ attempts to sell packages to marketers based on branding and engagement that moves well beyond ratings and gross rating points. “I don’t think just impression delivery or ratings delivery is always the perfect indicator of how to move [a client’s] business, so we try to go the extra step,” ESPN EVP of multimedia sales Eric Johnson told JackMyers Media Business Report in an exclusive interview. He says about a third of ESPN’s business now is written as an opportunity for more than one medium. At yesterday’s Upfront presentation on a fabricated SportsCenter set at the Nokia Theater, ESPN executives unveiled multiple cross-platform marketing programs and immersive sports initiatives. They also announced Hannah Storm will be joining a new live weekday morning SportsCenter in August. At the same time, The Media Networks division of ESPN – parent The Walt Disney Company announced the creation of an emerging media and advertising research lab “to further explore the connection that viewers of all ages have with our entertainment, news and sports programming,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks.

After years of talking about cross-platform sales and the need to move beyond ratings, the mentality is taking hold. NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker proclaimed ahead of this week’s Upfront presentations that it’s not “just about the ratings anymore,” and said that NBC is working more closely with advertisers to construct packages in multiple media. Disney executives, too, have talked about the affinity their viewers have with the brand across platforms. MTV executives have been working with research organizations, including Dynamic Logic, Latitude and OTX to, like Nielsen and ESPN, try to understand how exposure to the MTV brand affects messaging across platforms. (They are also working more closely with advertisers to create co-branded content that runs between programming. JackMyers Media Business Report, May 6.) Scripps Networks has worked to engage viewers and users by creating interstitial “vignettes” that wrap advertiser-friendly content around commercial messages for products for its lifestyle channels such as the Food Network, and created complimentary content for the Web. “We’re going to have to become much better at measuring the synergistic effect of what happens when you put a campaign on television, but tie it into a direct link with a Web presence,” Mike Pardee, SVP of research at Scripps told JackMyers Media Business Report in an exclusive interview. “And you might have other tie-ins like print or outdoor or billboard.”

CNN’s sales team is pushing especially hard to extol the brand value of the channel throughout the day, whether at airports, at home or on a cellphone. “That the [broadcast] networks can say they reached this many people on this particular program on this Thursday night is an argument that was valid five years ago, not today,” CNN’s Greg D’Alba, EVP and COO of advertising sales, told JackMyers Media Business Report. D’Alba and Johnson were both quick to say they weren’t talking about simple bundling — moving repackaged TV content to the Web or onto mobile devices and wrapping those into a packaged media buy. ESPN not only puts SportsCenter on — a move that despite initial fears has been additive of audience rather than cutting into TV viewing, Johnson says — but also creates original Web, mobile and digital on-demand programming. CNN has run separate live video programming on the Web and TV for the major Democratic primaries. It’s crucial, says D’Alba, to provide “real utility content that comes in the form of news and or information like a CNN or sports where viewers or consumers are emotionally attached to their specific brand and their content that the message is perceived in a better way and reaching consumers where creative will stand out.”

In a challenged Upfront environment where media buyers are again bristling over perceived increased rates for decreased audience, the sellers are trying to be more creative about explaining the worth of the buys. If the ESPN-Nielsen initiative bears fruit, it will be one of the first sets of quantitative data about media usage of a single media brand across a multiplicity of platforms. They hope to use the panel to tell not only more about the number of people who use the different media, but also their demographic information and whether different markets have different multi-media behaviors. (The initiative is different from Nielsen’s announced Data Fusion service, which combines viewership information from a TV panel of 30,000 and an Internet panel of 27,000.) While Johnson acknowledges that the “bread and butter” for ESPN is still TV buys for clients trying to reach the ESPN audience, he and D’Alba know they and their clients are going to have to follow the consumer’s usage patterns. “At the end of the day you got to figure out how to capture the media consumer’s media consumption and behavioral habits on a 24-hour basis, which is quickly the way people are starting to consume media,” D’Alba says. “They want to define their own prime time.”

To communicate with or to be contacted by the executives and/or companies mentioned in this column, email the JackMyers Connection Hotline.

Dorian Benkoil is a regular contributor to JackMyers Media Business Report.


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