ESPN overhauls website to bolster ad viewability

ESPN has redesigned its UK and US websites and introduced a raft of new ad formats to cater better for consumers' mobile content demands, while addressing the ongoing issue of ad viewability in the market. Mitsubishi, BT and Bet365 are among the first to launch campaigns.

“We fully embrace advertising – that’s what pays our bills,” Charly Classen, vice president EMEA at ESPN told The Drum at an exclusive briefing.

“As we were designing the site it was about how we could integrate advertising in the best possible way so that advertisers get what they’re looking for as well as the users.”

Firstly ESPN has repositioned its display inventory, most notably the banner at the top of the page has been moved below the navigation bar in a bid to increase its effectiveness.

A parallax unit – first used on its platforms such as ESPN FC – has been introduced. It sits within the content stream and expands as a user scrolls.

Recognising the growing importance of video, a new format – described as “essentially a homepage takeover” - has also been created.

A Universal Ad Package (UAP) which streamlines delivery of these formats across four pillars: extra-large on desktop, large on laptop, medium on tablet, and small on smartphone.

With the exception of the video unit, all of these formats fall under a new sync-ad sales policy. This means that only one advertiser will feature on the page at any one time and brands will no longer compete against others for user attention.

“With most publishers, unless you buy a homepage takeover, you buy one [ad unit] or another so often these ads are competing. But we’re not selling that way. That doesn’t mean you’ll own them for the whole day but if you are buying on an impressions basis they are synced,” explained Alan Fagan, group sales director, ESPN EMEA.

The introduction of this sales policy and the degree to which advertising has been built into the fabric of ESPN.co.uk has placed a greater emphasis on the need for creativity from brands which has been optimised for all devices.

“Any advertiser working with us needs to provide creative that will run across all platforms. That is in their interest to do that. The industry needs to get there,” said Classen, adding that any advertiser will therefore work directly with ESPN to develop bespoke creative for each screen size.

Classen said it has also mirrored a trend where ESPN is now working with fewer select clients with a larger ad spend.

“It becomes much more of a partnership that a traditional advertising deal. It’s a lot of work for a lot of people but it’s a lot more effective,” he said.

However, the rise of programmatic has not been ignored and, bar the video offering, each unit will eventually be able to be traded programmatically.

“What we’re offering in the premium world we’re offering in the programmatic world. In fact there is no reason why we can’t offer it all,” said Fagan. “The pipes are already set up we’re already in communication with trading desks about how we do it.”

Discussing Pangea – the joint venture between the Guardian, Financial Times, CNN International, The Economist and Reuters to pool audiences and let advertisers buy inventory programmatically via a central exchange – Fagan revealed it could in time see ESPN establish its own programmatic exchange.

“It makes a lot of sense for the brands doing it to take some control back. It can only be a good thing. It’s not something we’re actively pursuing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s something that hasn’t been going round in my head. It has for some time. Keen to see how it develops.”

In terms of measurement, Classen said that a time-base metric is something it would go to market with tomorrow if it could.

"Internally we talk about average net audience a huge amount, which is the number of people divided by how long they spend on ESPN. That’s a far more useful metric than just the number of uniques," he said.

"77 per cent of traffic comes from tablet or mobile, but the interesting thing is that the average usage is 4.9 minutes and on mobile its 4.7 minutes so people spend as much on mobile as they are on desktop."

However, he said the UK industry isn't ready to trade on that metric currently.

The Drum is running Media Slap, a conference on 23 April which looks at sustainable publishing models in the digital age. For more information visit the Media Slap website.

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