Since launching in April, ESPN’s direct-to-consumer streaming service ESPN+ has had very limited advertising.
Live games from Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, soccer, golf, and other sports all have typical ad breaks, with ads delivered dynamically. However, the service has not featured pre or post-roll ads, nor sponsored segments, games or other ad content.
That is poised to change, according to ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro. Speaking at ESPN’s press day at the company’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, Pitaro said ESPN is exploring additional advertising opportunities for ESPN+.
"Our primary focus is growing reach & subs,” Pitaro said, according to Axios’ Sara Fischer. “That being said, yes -- we are very interested in an ad-lite type of experience within ESPN+ where you have various forms of sponsorship integration. Fair to say you can expect to see that going forward.”
Sponsorships could allow for a brand to present a sport, series or game, with branding built into the user interface of the app, in addition to video ads.
Pitaro added that ESPN+ is a “priority” for parent company Disney, and that he has been given the green light to aggressively bid on live sports rights as they come up.
Pitaro identified ESPN+ and direct-to-consumer generally as one of four pillars that he is focused on at the company, in addition to audience expansion (particularly to younger viewers), innovation, storytelling and programming.
To help bring in more young viewers, ESPN has invested in Esports content, and Pitaro says the company will continue to do so.
In May, ESPN struck a deal to televise “League of Legends” tournaments on ESPN+.
"Esports is not a fad,” he said. “It's not going anywhere. We believe it's ascending. In the spirit of us attracting a younger audience, it's got to be a priority."