ESPN Launches Research Initiative, With World Cup as First Focus

Sports fans are multitaskers. With a football game on TV, fans check basketball scores online and get fantasy updates on their phones. ESPN caters to those fan habits by the minute but, until recently, had no comprehensive way of measuring how fans consume multimedia offerings. Beginning with this summer’s World Cup, however, ESPN will get a much better handle on multimedia consumption through the first venture of a new cross-media research initiative, ESPN XP.

“Fans are like snowflakes: no two are alike,” explains Artie Bulgrin, SVP of research and analytics for ESPN. “This is not just about ESPN being a television cable network anymore. We are a multimedia company, and so we have to be measured that way. We’re ready to increase the intensity of our work in cross-media research with a much higher level of financial and intellectual investment.”

That investment is an ongoing research venture that will study consumer behavior around major sporting events every quarter, beginning with the 2010 World Cup. The XP initiative is designed to advance the company’s own knowledge about fans’ holistic multimedia use, as well as the incremental impact that such usage has on advertisers’ media campaigns.

Five by Five
ESPN XP will measure media usage and advertiser effects across five media platforms — TV, radio, Internet, mobile, and print — using five research vendors to provide a more comprehensive picture of how today’s sports fan consumes media and what that means for advertisers.

“We’ve been fanatics about leveraging the latest technology to serve the fan and navigate sports fans from platform to platform,” Bulgrin says. “But we’ve lacked the sophistication across media management to demonstrate the true value of this integration. We want to move cross-media research from a special project to a standard practice moving forward.”

There are three specific goals for the initiative: to count audiences for each singular platform, determine cross-platform audiences and effects, and measure advertising effectiveness. ESPN already measures audiences for each individual platform — through TV ratings, Web traffic, etc. — but previously had no way to measure the cross-platform audience or the effect on viewers of a cross-platform advertising campaign.

“We will combine single-source panels, fused data sets, and data models to provide a full picture of multimedia use during the World Cup,” says Glenn Enoch, VP of integrated media research for ESPN. “That will help us put a value on cross-platform advertising and learn the impact of being in a cross-media ad.”

A First for Nielsen
ESPN has announced five partners that will help in this initiative (although additional members of the collective will be added later). The first is Nielsen, which will measure TV, Internet, and mobile audiences to determine advertiser exposure across those three platforms, determine the amount of simultaneous in-home exposure of TV and Internet, and provide a fusion of three-screen usage. ESPN XP’s World Cup project will mark the first use of Nielsen’s electronic mobile panel.

“In addition to our National People Meter sample to measure total TV usage, we have a Nielsen online panel of 200,000 respondents where we are electronically capturing what they’re doing, so it’s not self-recall,” says Howard Shimmel, SVP of client insights for Nielsen. “We are also putting in place a panel where we will have a meter on people’s cellphones, so we will be able to see Websites via mobile applications and see video starts and stops through mobile.”

Information from an additional 15,000 people in 6,000 households will be used to measure in-home Internet and TV usage, and Nielsen will use fusion integration techniques to pool the information together.

In Touch With Out-of-Home
Knowledge Networks will work with ESPN to measure weekly and total exposure to the World Cup across all platforms, including live viewing, time-shifted viewing, and out-of-home consumption, including sports bars and gyms.

“Our Total Touch methodology is a yesterday-recall method,” says David Tice, VP/group account director for Knowledge Networks. “We basically walk people through their yesterday, find out when they used different types of media and which ESPN properties they used, and capture minutes of use for each day in a particular medium, location, how many minutes were simultaneous use, etc. We field a separate survey for every day for 32 days straight.”

The 310 individuals that Knowledge Networks surveys each day, both English- and Spanish-speaking, are recruited using a probability sample. Knowledge Networks’ piece of the puzzle specifically addresses the out-of-home audience that ESPN has had trouble capturing in years past.

iPhones, Word of Mouth, Predictive Models
Media Behavior Institute will apply its USA TouchPoints cross-media research service to the World Cup. USA TouchPoints relies on the 26,000 people that complete the Mediamark (MRI) Survey of the American Consumer to use an eDiary application on their iPhones.

“We give them the iPhone app for 10 days, and they keep track on a half-hour basis of what they’re doing, who they’re with, and what their media activities are,” says Bill Moult, CEO of the Media Behavior Institute. “For a portion of those, we observe them, and that allows us to learn a lot about how people are using electronic media today.”

The Keller Fay Group will measure word-of-mouth conversations related to brands sponsoring ESPN during the World Cup. An ongoing survey is conducted before, during, and after the event to measure changes in volume and shifts in polarity and tone of word-of-mouth conversations — both offline and online — generated from World Cup media plans.

Finally, the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative is working with ESPN’s internal server data to build a predictive model that will project multichannel consumption habits of the fan audience across Internet and mobile.

“We’re trying to think outside of the box a little bit,” Enoch says. “They’re going to take our server data for online and mobile to create a model to predict patterns of use across the entire World Cup.”

Sharing the Wealth
With the help of these five research methods from five vendors, ESPN hopes to develop a scalable method that can be used on an ongoing basis, and perhaps be shared across the industry.

“We want to be as open as we can about this to the industry; we can’t do this in a vacuum,” Bulgrin explains. “But this is not a currency just yet. This is an R&D initiative, and we’re learning here. If we come up with something that we feel is very viable, we have no problem presenting it to the industry and explaining exactly how we did it. We’re not looking at this ultimately to just service ESPN.”

An Ongoing Effort
The World Cup was the perfect event to launch a research initiative of this type because most of the games will be played during the day, requiring out-of-home viewing. ESPN will be covering the event on all of its platforms, providing plenty of research opportunities.

But the World Cup is just the beginning. Bulgrin and Enoch are already planning ESPN XP’s next initiative, to launch this fall surrounding college and NFL football. Their goal: by 2012, to turn ESPN XP into a scalable research plan that will measure cross-media audiences throughout the year.