Upfront: ESPN Launches Documentaries, Expands X Games, Radio Apps
Already one of the more ubiquitous brands in the multiscreen media landscape, ESPN unveiled a slew of new digital media initiatives at its 2012 upfront presentation, including a new venture with Twitter that will enable advertisers to create social media campaigns around major sporting events.
The sports media company also announced a new series of digital documentaries that will put a spotlight on some of the more memorable events in recent sports history, as well as a new YouTube channel for Grantland.com, the subsidiary sports and pop culture site, and an upgraded ESPN Radio app.
In addition to the digital documentary films, ESPN unveiled a new series of documentary films about women in sports under the umbrella title "Nine For IX," which is timed to the 40th anniversary of the Title IX section of the 1972 Constitutional amendment that banned sex discrimination from schools receiving federal funding. Those films will run on ESPNw, as well as on sibling broadcaster ABC on Saturdays.
The presentation, held at the Best Buy Theatre in New York’s theater district, had its share of hoopla, including appearances by a number of pro-sports celebrities (Justin Tuck of the New York Giants, Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Knicks’ Tyson Chandler) and a performance by the Ohio State University marching band.
Under the Twitter venture, programs will be jointly created by ESPN and Twitter -- beginning with a project called GameFace, to debut in this year’s NBA finals -- and which will be integrated into ABC’s game coverage and ESPN’s "NBA Tonight" coverage. Fans tweet photographs of their “game face,” and compete for a grand prize tour of ESPN’s Bristol, CT headquarters.
ESPN executives presented the network as unique in its ability to present live audiences to advertisers through game coverage and analysis across a complex landscape of media devices.
At one point, Jon Gruden, analyst for "Monday Night Football," told the audience of advertisers, agency buyers and planners that “if you only buy that screen” -- referring to the TV screen -- “you’re not buying the entire NFL,” which reaches an additional 21 million fans every Sunday via its online and mobile coverage.
One new NFL element for the upcoming season is a multimedia game where fans try to pick game winners, with a grand prize of $1 million. New to the network's NFL coverage team is Lisa Salters, who will cover the NFL full-time and serve as the network’s game time sideline reporter throughout the season.
“TV fans demand live coverage on every screen,” said Sean Bratches, executive vice president, sales and marketing. The network’s authentication service, WatchESPN attracted 40 million subscribers in its first year in operation. “We expect to double that in the next year,” Bratches said.
The network is also expanding its X Games package of programming to more than 125 live hours across six X Games events. Three new game sites have been added, including Munich, Barcelona and Fox do Iguacu, Brazil.
Ed Erhardt, president of Global Customer Marketing and Sales, wrapped up the presentation, telling clients “we’re ready to do business.” Talking to reporters later, Erhardt confirmed that “talks are ongoing” with many advertisers and agencies.