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Dave Coletti (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)
Dave Coletti
(Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

Wednesday, ESPN Digital Research & Analytics revealed its monthly digital media usage report for March. With help from ESPN Communications, the Digital Research team has been reporting ESPN’s digital media performance virtually every month for years now. But the last two reports have been different.

For one thing, the reports are now coming a little later than usual. Second, they’re including data from outside the U.S. Front Row asked Vice President, Digital Media Research & Analytics, Dave Coletti for insight.

We noticed you’ve made the switch to reporting a global number for ESPN Digital Media. Why?
Our digital properties are inherently global in nature, so it makes sense to represent their usage on a worldwide scale. Plus, slowly but surely, digital research data is becoming available across platforms on a global basis. For this monthly report we use comScore data – they are a research vendor whose data is used in a host of countries around the world for media planning, performance evaluation, and public reporting. comScore launched their multi-platform measurement service in the U.S. three years ago. That means that they include computers, smartphones and tablets in the usage they credit to digital properties. This multi-platform approach has rolled out to important ESPN markets such as the U.K., Australia and Brazil, among others, with Mexico launching next month. This is in addition to the computer-only data comScore collects in dozens of other markets. So, increasingly, we have the ability to tout ESPN’s total digital performance across platforms around the world.

Our digital properties are inherently global in nature, so it makes sense to represent their usage on a worldwide scale. Plus, slowly but surely, digital research data is becoming available across platforms on a global basis. – Dave Coletti

Reporting digital usage takes a lot longer than TV viewership, apparently. You just reported March numbers in May. There’s no such thing as a “digital overnight”?
Well, there is such a thing as a “digital overnight,” but it comes from a different source and has a different purpose. We use our first-party analytics data that is generated in real-time to monitor the performance of our digital web, app and video properties. For example, we use first-party analytics data to determine the incremental audience that WatchESPN streaming provides to the TV viewership of an event on our linear networks. That’s done on an “overnight” basis — in fact, we just did that to report on our NFL Draft coverage this past weekend.

First-party analytics data provides the intelligence behind many strategic decisions around the company. But that data has limitations – it doesn’t give us any sense of marketplace context, and it is only available to us. So first-party analytics data is generally not used as industry currency in the way that audited, accredited and transparent third-party data can be. At the moment, comScore data is only released monthly, and data from outside the U.S. typically does not come out until four weeks after the end of a month. So, we’re stuck releasing our external reporting from that source with a significant lag.

Both Nielsen and comScore want to extend the “TV overnight” concept to the digital space, so eventually we could see how entities such as YouTube or Facebook perform on a daily basis alongside ESPN. – Coletti

What’s your best guess as to when the digital media industry will have a standard – and faster – form of measurement like TV? Is that even possible?
It’s not only possible, but we’re already headed down that road. When it comes to extending the measurement of audiences from TV programs into the digital space, we are working with Nielsen in their deployment of a syndicated “Total Audience Measurement” product. That effort will produce total viewing – programs and commercials – across TV, smartphones, tablets, computers, and over-the-top devices.

Data will be available to ad agencies, the media, and other programmers and will act as a form of currency in the media marketplace. In addition, comScore recently acquired Rentrak, a measurement company that specializes in TV set-top-box data. With the addition of Rentrak, comScore will enhance the TV measurement component of their XMedia and Project Blueprint products which provide de-duplicated audiences across platforms.

Both Nielsen and comScore want to extend the “TV overnight” concept to the digital space, so eventually we could see how entities such as YouTube or Facebook perform on a daily basis alongside ESPN. All of this requires a tremendous amount of industry participation and necessitates a great deal of work internally. We’ve been saying recently that “measurement is a team sport” and these initiatives are a shining example of that. But we’ll get there, and we’re closer to it than ever before, even though the pace is slower than we’d all like.

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