ESPN Strives To Eject Clutter From Its Site
ESPN.com is counting on less clutter and more advertising options to bolster revenue at a time when its sister cable channels are battling rare weakness, the New York Times reports.
ESPN, the Walt Disney Company’s sports-media behemoth, is unveiling Tuesday a substantial redesign of its primary Web portal in a test form, with a formal introduction planned for Jan. 5.
About a year in the making, the overhaul represents at least one significant shift in strategy. Instead of inundating visitors with its intense coverage of every major sport from the get-go — something that the company now believes can drive away certain fans — ESPN.com is moving in a less-is-more direction, at least on the home page.
“If we are frustrating people, they’re not going to spend as much time as we want on the site,” says John Skipper, ESPN EVP for content. “There can be a thing as too much.”
ESPN.com, for instance, currently greets users with 36 links displayed in a block near the top of the home page. There are links for golf, racing, men’s basketball, college football, blogs, online games, and podcasts, among other things. The redesign pares this list down to 19 links.
Making ESPN.com as appealing to visitors as possible — and thus to advertisers — has taken on greater importance as the economic recession in general and in auto sales in particular have put pressure on the company’s television ad sales. The young-male audience ESPN serves up continues to be prized by advertisers, but Disney singled out soft ad sales at the channel as one reason profit growth in the company’s media networks unit slowed in the most recent quarter.
The new ESPN.com will give advertisers eight options for displaying messages on its most heavily visited pages, up from three. A spokesman says that, in January, the site will introduce a video-advertising option specifically with movie studios in mind. Ford has signed up as the redesign’s presenting sponsor.
Over the years, ESPN has come to dominate every corner of sports media, operating a suite of highly profitable cable channels, publishing a successful magazine, and pumping scores and video clips to mobile phones. The company is also a leader on the Web, with ESPN.com capturing roughly 50% of the total minutes spent by Internet users watching sports video, according to Nielsen Video Census.
Growing even bigger is the goal, and, to do that, ESPN needs to reach beyond hard-core sports fans — it already has them — to people whose interest in athletics is more casual, analysts say. A less chaotic Web design is one way ESPN managers are tackling this challenge.
At the same time, ESPN must keep its primary audience satisfied and increase the amount of time these people spend on the site, which could allow the company to charge higher ad rates. To that end, the company has built a more efficient search engine — “Our old one, frankly, was just not very good,” Skipper says — that is intended to allow heavy users to delve deeply into the site with greater ease.
Expanded user customization also comes into play, with visitors being able to do things like personalize the scores displayed on the home page for the first time, says Rob King, the Website’s editor in chief. “We’re also working hard to make sure that personalization follows you through the site.”