ESPN Buys Vistas, Enhances Ad Insertions

ESPN said last week it has acquired a company with technology facilitating virtual insertion of ads within sportscasts, such as a logo underneath a hockey player or Pepsi sign behind horses coming down the stretch.

The acquisition of Vistas Unlimited could help ESPN financially, if it doesn't have to license the embedded-advertising capability it already uses.

Advertisers can insert logos in baseball, college basketball and other broadcasts, but not within marquee property "Monday Night Football," since the NFL does not allow any sponsorship integrations in games.

PVI Virtual Media Services has been a leader in the virtual insertion space -- having developed the line that appears during football games showing the distance to a first down. Owned by Cablevision, it has worked with ESPN on advertising initiatives.

ESPN's Vistas deal could give it some leverage against PVI. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Vistas is based in Plano, Texas, and ESPN said it would retain a majority of its employees. Vistas said it won a sports Emmy award for a virtual line used in PGA and LPGA telecasts on the Golf Channel showing the path to the hole for a putt.



Virtual ad insertions -- both in sports and entertainment programs -- could continue to gain advertiser interest, since they are arguably DVR-proof. "Zap-resistant exposure for marketers" is how Dr. Kenneth Overton, Vistas' founder, described it in a statement in 2008. Vistas says there are opportunities to feed different ad insertions to different markets during a broadcast.

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