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ESPN-Evolving Sports (across) Platforms & Networks

We’re just back from the IAB MIXX conference where some of the biggest names in online media (think players like Tim Armstrong, Carol Bartz, and even Ashton Kutcher) were sharing their thoughts on the future of interactive advertising and the digital space. Lots of big ideas were thrown around (and we’ll be talking a lot Read more

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image © 2009 ESPN

image © 2009 ESPN

We’re just back from the IAB MIXX conference where some of the biggest names in online media (think players like Tim Armstrong, Carol Bartz, and even Ashton Kutcher) were sharing their thoughts on the future of interactive advertising and the digital space.

Lots of big ideas were thrown around (and we’ll be talking a lot about the conference in the next few days). But one of the most interesting statements came from George Bodenheimer, President of ESPN (and ABC Sports). When the conference moderator asked him about whether he saw ESPN morphing in to a multi-media company, Bodenheimer replied “We ceased looking at ourselves as as a television network probably … 10 years ago.”

It’s not a surprising comment from the head of one of the most widely distributed media brands in the world. But is it is a great reminder of just how much the game has changed in the past two decades. Recall that when ESPN started they were covering tractor pulls and ultimate frisbee championships. Now, we expect to be able to find out the score of a game at any time (indeed, we get frustrated if there isn’t a score box on the screen … something ESPN pioneered). And more often than not we expect to be able to watch the game as well (this was really brought home to me a couple of weekends ago when I visited a Turkish friend who was watching a live broadcast of his local Istanbul soccer club via a laptop connected to his television).

What Bodenheimer and his team have rightfully recognized is that ESPN’s business is content not television or radio or any other media. They’ve also made the decision to be platform agnostic and this has allowed their product to spread further and faster than if it was tied to a specific delivery system. Consider these eye opening numbers …

– ESPN online video receives 11.2 billion views per month (that’s right, BILLION)

– on weekends, ESPN mobile access demand is exceeding online access

– online platform traffic has increased 347% year on year

Bodenheimer has identified his company’s mission as “serving sports fans anywhere and everywhere they demand coverage”. The result is not just a boom in traffic but the opening of countless new revenue streams (the recent debut of local ESPN coverage in the Chicago and Boston markets is just one example of this). ESPN has realized that the drive towards free content on the web occurs only if that content is viewed as a commodity. When the content is branded and/or unique whether it be ESPN, NFL or even a personality like Perez Hilton), value is established. And once value has been established, distribution is the only barrier to monetization.

Bodenheimer wasn’t the only conference attendee to draw parallels between the early days of cable and the current evolution of Internet media (Adam Curry gave a fascinating presentation on the MTV formula and how it might be applied to online content). But the foresight of the ESPN strategy team provides an excellent example of how branded media content can evolve to not only take advantage of digital distribution but actually use it as an engine for growth.

Do you work for a traditional media company? Or even a company with access to data that can be distributed like media (e.g. retail, financial or healthcare information, product ratings)? Are you providing access to your content everywhere your consumers are demanding it?

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