Behind The Scenes

ESPN’s digital media metrics:
Are you engaged, or just clicking?

ESPN offers coverage on various devices and platforms.

Editor’s note: As the digital media industry continues its constant charge forward, measuring all things digital requires innovation and vision to match. We’ll check in with ESPN Research and Analytics occasionally to keep us up to speed.

The development of digital media is an important focus at ESPN because our digital products allow us to serve sports fans wherever they are, no matter what device they’re using — on the Web, on smartphones, on tablets, on game consoles, and in apps on iOS, Android or Windows platforms.

The way we measure the success of our digital media products is also important, not only in providing insight into how we can serve sports fans better, but to our business partners, as well.

We checked in with Dave Coletti, Vice President, Digital Media Research and Analytics, to learn more.

ESPN’s Dave Coletti.
(Joe Faraoni/ESPN)

We seem to be hearing more and more about the idea of “scale” in measuring digital audiences. What is your take on that?
The term “scale” can have many different meanings. In most cases “scale” is referring to the desire to aggregate a large amount of monthly unique visitors — the unduplicated number of people who visit a site in a given month. It’s a primary form of digital measurement for some publishers. I’d contend, though, that monthly unique visitors is a grossly incomplete metric. It doesn’t give us insight into the full picture of user behavior. How often do those users return to the site? How much time do they spend on it? Are those users consuming video? Audio?

At ESPN, we use a variety of metrics to evaluate the performance of our digital properties. Scale is important, but the value of our content lies in a much deeper understanding of how someone interacts with digital content. Merely counting how many peoplevisited as infrequently as once in a month certainly doesn’t reveal the full extent of that value.

For example, in November, comScore (a leading digital research provider) reported that ESPN accounted for 34 percent of all the time spent with websites in the online sports category. Not only did ESPN lead the category, but we also delivered a larger share than the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 sites combined. That’s a good level of “scale.”

Why is it so important to measure engagement, rather than just counting clicks or eyeballs?
Engagement metrics are a better way to evaluate the performance of our content, and then tie that to the opportunity of our users seeing an ad. Ultimately, we’re in the business of capturing the time and attention of sports fans. Our goal is to reach as many of them as possible, reach them as often as possible, and keep them engaged for as long as we can. We serve our advertising partners by giving them the ability to put their marketing message in front of these engaged fans. Reporting how many times a banner ad was clicked, or how many people visited a website or app once in a month, doesn’t provide any insight into how either content or advertising resonated with the fan. Clicks and uniques are metrics that don’t allow advertisers to plan their media effectively. An advertiser can’t reach a site’s total of monthly unique visitors each month unless they placed an ad on every page, in every video, and in every audio stream. That’s not practical. ESPN has been vocal about using time-based metrics, such as average minute audience, as a means to better represent the avidity of our users and help advertisers best plan campaigns.

How is ESPN working to better understand measurement of digital across platforms?
ESPN Research + Analytics has been developing ways to measure and analyze cross-platform behavior for over a decade. On the digital side specifically we have been evaluating what we call our “total digital” performance using our internal analytics data for several years. We look at the usage of our content that lives on computers,smartphones, tablets and game consoles comprehensively to understand how traffic is trending overall, and to discern changes in the audience share of each platform.

Recently comScore started the beta reporting of digital multi-platform data that tracks usage of content across multiple devices. ESPN has been supporting this change in approach for quite some time. It allows us to align our internal data with comScore’s marketplace data, and get a much more accurate read on ESPN’s total digital standing in both the sports category, and across the broader digital media landscape. Initial results have been encouraging: In October, comScore found that by including smartphone and tablet usage ESPN adds 3.2 billion minutes to their previously reported computer-only tally, and increased ESPN’s monthly reach by 42 percent.

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