Behind The Scenes

Fast Break: Artie Bulgrin, Research & Analytics

Artie Bulgrin is ESPN’s senior vice president, research and analytics, and has been with the company for 15 years. The goal of the department is to provide research that helps to understand and extend the ESPN brand, increase distribution, grow target audiences and develop new revenue opportunities.

Artie Bulgrin

Bulgrin supervises a staff that provides multi-media research and consumer insights services to all divisions of the company on an international basis. He is also responsible for ESPN’s Digital Media Analytics group.

Today ESPN Research+Analytics services a diverse set of business units for ESPN with a focus on TV audience research, digital media research & analytics, cross media measurement, consumer and brand research, content distribution, and advertising accountability.

The goal of his department is to provide reliable data and tangible insights to grow the ESPN brand, increase audiences, and develop new sales opportunities.

With BCS games airing this week, culminating with next Monday’s championship game, Front Row reached out to Artie for some perspective on what the BCS means to ESPN.

Front Row: How important is the BCS to ESPN?

Artie Bulgrin: When you look up BCS media coverage in Wikipedia, it discusses the fact that in 2008 ESPN won the TV rights to the BCS National Championship game as well as the four other BCS bowls from 2011 thru 2014. It goes on to say: “The contract with ESPN is notable as it makes the BCS National Championship Game the most prominent annual sporting event not to be shown over broadcast television.”

I think that says it all. ESPN’s acquisition of the BCS officially bridged the gap between cable and broadcast and cemented ESPN’s position as the destination for college sports. Our first year covering the BCS was a huge success as the 2011 BCS National Championship game on ESPN was the highest-rated and most watched cable telecast ever. And ESPN’s ratings for Male 18-34, Male 18-49 and persons 18-34 were all higher than the 2010 BCS championship game on ABC.

FR: How strong is the BCS in ESPN’s “best available screen” strategy?

AB: The combination of a series of major “must-see” events and exclusivity on ESPN means that the BCS will be a preeminent showcase for our media platforms as we apply our classic “surround” approach to this event. But in particular I expect this to be an exceptional event for ESPN3 and WatchESPN. We got a glimpse of this last year as ESPN3 delivered more than 173,000 viewers in the average minute for the BCS National Championship game — its largest audience outside the World Cup. Of course, this year we now have the WatchESPN platform online, on smart phones and on tablets — making it even easier to follow the event live. And let’s not forget audio coverage by ESPN Radio!

FR: Why is ESPN the best home for the BCS?

AB: There are many reasons ESPN is the best home for the BCS. The simplest is that when fans think about sports, especially college sports, they automatically turn to ESPN. For so many years, the BCS Bowl games were split between a couple of networks, but now navigating the events could not be easier. ESPN is simply the home of the BCS.

Next, our biggest point of difference is what I described earlier — our unmatched ability to surround a major event before, during and after with our multiplatform coverage and now including live linear TV coverage on multiple platforms. Nobody serves the fan better.

FR: Some critics/fans lamented the move of these marquee games from broadcast to cable. What have we seen to prove or disprove this theory?

AB: Right now, 91 percent of American TV households have cable or satellite service and anyone interested in sports is even more likely to subscribe. Furthermore, if you look at the BCS audience on Broadcast TV the last few years, the audience coming from cable/satellite homes has increased steadily from 90 percent in 2007 to 94 percent in 2010. So in the last two years that the BCS Championship game aired on broadcast (Fox and ABC) the audience coming from just broadcast only homes equated to just 0.7 of a rating point.

The biggest factors affecting our ratings, like any event in sports, are the matchup and whether it is a competitive game. Last year, we felt that ESPN’s inaugural BCS National Championship game (Oregon versus Auburn) didn’t have as strong a matchup as ABC did in 2010 (Alabama versus Texas), and yet our young adult audience was higher than ABC’s. In fact, the 2011 BCS National Championship game on ESPN delivered the largest Male 18-34 audience since 2006 and the largest Male 18-49 audience since 2007. On a household basis, ESPN’s rating in 2011 was higher than four of the last 12 on ABC or Fox.

This year we feel great about the LSU/Alabama matchup and are excited to bring it to our fans through all our platforms.

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