We’re in the midst of the World Series, the college and pro football seasons are in full swing, the NHL season has gotten underway, and Major League Soccer’s playoffs are about to start. (Without the lockout, the NBA season would have kicked off by now, as well.) The sports-packed fall calendar has been especially rewarding this year for ESPN, which in September topped Yahoo Sports as the largest Web sports property for the first time since 2008, according to comScore.
Online Media Daily recently spoke with David Coletti, vice president, digital media research and analytics at ESPN, to find out more about how the cable network’s viewership is playing out in mobile, and what it means for advertising.
In addition to its companion mobile Web sites, ESPN offers dozens of mobile applications, including the WatchESPN app for live streaming. The network has made a special effort to track cross-platform media usage through its ESPN XP initiative, launched during the 2010 World Cup.
OMD: What have you learned about mobile relative to other media through ESPN XP?
Coletti: One of the real remarkable findings that came out of the World Cup, from the XP work we did as well as the football season and college basketball season, is how mobile works in context with other media.
What we found with measuring all of our media platforms, for generating brand word-of-mouth: Mobile was actually the top driver. Particularly interesting was that mobile out-of-home was even stronger in that regard. People tend to look at the mobile space as more transactional. But we’re seeing really strong brand metrics coming out of the mobile environment.
OMD: How does mobile help in terms of branding?
Coletti: The other thing we found is that ads on that platform [mobile], they work particularly hard at delivering what we would call the finer points of an ad campaign. With sponsor recall or brand consideration or interest in a new product, mobile drives significant share when compared to other media. It’s a very personal device, and the user tends to be very engaged with that screen. They’re absorbing things that maybe in other media it’s easier to avoid.
OMD: Isn’t that why there is also a concern about ads being overly intrusive in mobile?
Coletti: Sure. With every ad platform, you have to strike the right balance.
OMD: What’s uptake like for ESPN’s mobile properties overall?
Coletti: Overall, our mobile usage is extremely strong and growing at an incredibly rapid pace. I had mentioned on the recent Nielsen panel that the last two Sundays in September, we had 10 million people come to the ESPN mobile Web site, and each of those Sundays, we had about 13 million people come to the traditional ESPN.com site. Which is a remarkable parity of scale for a platform like mobile that still has a lot of room for growth.
OMD: How does usage break down when it comes to applications versus the mobile Web?
Coletti: We’re seeing extremely rapid growth on the app side of things. For example, in September, our Score Center app, which is our main app across iPhone and Android, we had about 3 million people per day on average across the month. And that was up 100% from a year ago. Between our mobile Web and our mobile apps in September, we had 104,000 people per minute using one of those platforms. To contextualize that, if you stack that 104,000 people per minute up against the way Nielsen measures cable television, that’s a larger audience than 31 ad-supported cable networks. I find that amazing.
OMD: What about time spent? How does mobile compare to the desktop site?
Coletti: The dot-com is a little longer. But time spent in mobile is longer than people might expect. On average for mobile Web, it’s about 12 minutes per visit, which I think runs counter to what some people might expect. They might expect it to be a minute or two. We’re finding people are using mobile increasingly for more content-intensive behavior. Mobile certainly is most driven by score-checking, fantasy sports -- things like that. But we’re finding more consumption of columns and the like. As we optimize the experience by device, it makes that deeper dive experience more palatable for the user.
OMD: What is ESPN learning about how people use tablets?
Coletti: We’re doing some qualitative learning about how the iPad is very much an in-home device; it is very much a second screen in the home. We’re also seeing, of course, that it’s a beautiful device for video. We served up about 2.5 million video starts just from our ScoreCenter XL app optimized for the iPad. The mobile Web site, including the iPad, iPhone and Android, we had 16 million video views off that in September -- which, not surprisingly, was a record for us.
If ESPN is so aware of its mobile audience growing, why has it so limited the access of viewers by selecting cable distributors who are such a small percentage of the market share? Time Warner Cable I get, but Verizon FIOS and Bright House? What, are Charter and Cox playing hard ball?