Online, Mobile, Broadband, Audio & Games Reach New Highs in 2009
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ESPN Digital Media closed another record-setting year in 2009, highlighted by new milestones and record audience growth. On all platforms — online, mobile, broadband, games, digital audio and more — ESPN Digital Media set new highs. Among the many highlights, the launch of ESPN Local sites, the successful redesign and continued growth of ESPN.com, and the rapid growth of ESPN Mobile and ESPN360.com led the way.
“In 2009, we delivered on our vision of a super sports experience for fans both on Web and mobile,” said John Kosner, senior vice president & general manager, ESPN Digital Media. “We continue to innovate — locally, nationally and worldwide — and have big plans for 2010 with the launch of ESPN New York, new mobile apps and to-the-second coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup from South Africa.”
The launch of four local sites, in Chicago, Boston, Dallas and Los Angeles, was among the highlights of 2009. ESPNChicago.com — ESPN’s first local site – launched in April, followed by ESPNBoston.com and ESPNDallas.com in September and ESPNLosAngeles.com in December. ESPNNewYork.com is slated to launch in spring 2010. ESPNChicago.com and ESPNLosAngeles.com struck content syndication agreements with The Huffington Post Chicago and The Huffington Post Los Angeles, respectively, as well as collaborations with ABC-owned TV stations WLS and KABC to deliver easy access to local news, traffic and weather.
Each of the sites has already established itself among the top local sports destinations for fans in the respective markets. The first three sites collectively attracting more than 2.8 million fans who spent more than 9.6 million total minutes on the sites, according to comScore Media Metrix.
The growth of the sites has also seen ESPN bolster its news gathering organization with the addition of award-winning editors, writers, reporters and analysts, including Gordon Edes, Mike Reiss, Tedy Bruschi, Chris Forsberg, Calvin Watkins, Richard Durrett, Jeff Caplan, Tim MacMahon, Arash Markazi, Ramona Shelbourne, Mark Saxon, Andy and Brian Kamenetzky, Nick Friedell, Melissa Issacson and many more.
Other highlights from ESPN Digital Media in 2009 across multiple platforms:
ESPN.com began 2009 with a brand new design, creating a sleeker and easier to navigate site, a new award-winning site search, a more dynamic video interface and new industry-leading advertising integrations. The redesign proved itself a hit, as more fans spent a record amount of time on ESPN.com in 2009. According to Nielsen Online, total minutes spent per month on the site surpassed the 1 billion mark, up 24 percent compared to last year, and unique users per month were up 9 percent to an average of more than 21.6 million. According to comScore, total minutes spent per month on the site were up 27 percent to nearly 1.4 billion, while unique users per month were up 9 percent to more than 22.5 million.
ESPN.com also continues to be the leader in online video, with fans logging 2.5 billion minutes of video consumed in 2009. It also tops the sports category share of total minutes with 34 percent, surpassing more than the next two competitors combined. The extensive library of video content has also expanded, attracting more attention from fans this past year. Its popular weekly live program Fantasy Football Now is now a simulcast on ESPN2 during the football season, driving not only viewership for its time slot on television but also driving traffic back to the program on ESPN.com. The Digital Original series Mayne Street starring Kenny Mayne returned with two new seasons in 2009 and other original series, such as MMA Live, Inside Deal, and Daily Dime TV, continued to serve fans online.
ESPN Insider, ESPN’s paid content platform online, also hit its all-time high, with its total subscribers up 18 percent over the 2008 year-end total. Key drivers to this growth include its premium content, features and tools, as well as its continued strength with ESPN The Magazine, its loyal readers and a bundle agreement offer with MLB.TV Premium that was made available to the service’s hundreds of thousands of subscribers in 2009.
Following the overall site redesign in January 2009, several new extensions, redesigns and relaunches, — both in the U.S. and internationally — followed suit, including a new-look Action Sports site, the redesign of ESPNOutdoors.com, the relaunch of Racing-Live.com as ESPNF1.com, a World Cup 2010 microsite designed with both a U.S. and a global perspective and more.
ESPN Mobile — including ESPN’s industry-leading collection of mobile Web sites, mobile apps and games, mobile alerts and mobile video (ESPN Mobile TV and Video on Demand clips) — expanded upon the leadership position the company has established in the fast-emerging mobile content space.
ESPN was the eighth most-trafficked site on the mobile Web in 2009, and overwhelmingly the leading mobile Web sports site (reaching more than three times the audience of the nearest competitor). Each month, ESPN’s industry-leading site captured nearly two-thirds of the users seeking sports on the mobile Web, averaging 8.93 million unique visitors a month, a 35 percent increase over the same period a year ago. (source: Nielsen Mobile) ESPN’s international mobile Web sites also saw growth. Visits to ESPNSoccernet Mobile were up 379 percent and visits to ESPNCricinfo Mobile increased 113 percent compared to 2008. (source: Omniture Analytics)
ESPN Mobile was also active in mobile application development in 2009, launching numerous apps, including ESPN ScoreCenter in June, which has been downloaded more than 4.5 million times and is the top free sports App in the Apple iTunes App Store. In addition, since its September launch, ESPN Radio has been the No. 1 paid sports app in the App Store. Other apps released in 2009 include ESPN World Cup, ESPN Fantasy Football, ESPN Fantasy Football Draft Kit, ESPN Streak For The Cash, ESPN NBA.com Fantasy Basketball Draft Kit (in partnership with NBA.com), ESPN Spelling Bee and ESPN Zoom.
Additionally, ESPN Mobile delivered more messages and alerts to more fans than ever before — sending nearly 900 million alerts to fans in 2009, up 170 percent compared to 2008. The number of fans who signed up for alerts increased by 117 percent, and the average number of alerts per fan increased 46 percent over the same period.
More fans also viewed more mobile video on ESPN than ever before. Across all carriers, unique viewers of on-demand ESPN Mobile video increased 87 percent compared to 2008, and total minutes spent viewing on-demand mobile video increased 106 percent.
ESPN Mobile TV, the 24/7 mobile sports television network available on the FLO TV and MobiTV platforms, added originally produced, daily 30-minute ESPNEWS blocks and delivered nearly 850 live events in 2009. Total minutes spent viewing ESPN Mobile TV increased 186 percent over 2008.
ESPN360.com had a record-setting year, as the broadband sports television network continued its rapid distribution and audience growth, delivering more than 3,500 live, global sports events in 2009. Its distribution grew to more than 50 million households nationwide, double what it was a year ago, with new deals with Comcast, Cox, Charter, Windstream and more. The service is also available at no cost to approximately 21 million U.S. college students and U.S.-based military personnel via computers connected to on-campus educational networks and on-base military networks (those with “.edu” and “.mil” domains).
Its rapid distribution is being outpaced by its usage growth. Viewers to the network logged more than 17.5 million viewing hours. September recorded ESPN360.com’s best month to date, with a 250 percent growth in total hours views and a 180 percent increase in viewers.
Additionally, dozens of programming deals were completed in 2009, expanding ESPN360.com’s coverage to include the top five Euro soccer leagues and all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, as well as college football and basketball, golf, cricket and more.
In March, ESPN360.com also introduced an industry first: a dynamic advertising insertion platform. The product made its debut during ESPN’s coverage of college basketball Championship Week, when ESPN360.com streamed 124 men’s and women’s games.
ESPN Digital Audio
Through 2009, ESPN Radio listeners (including webcam “watchers”) consumed more than 78.6 million listening hours of streaming radio and podcast content, according to Ando Media Web Metrics, which measures nearly 7,000 global streams of audio worldwide, including terrestrial radio simulcasts and online-original streams.
In 2009, ESPN Digital Audio reached a milestone when ESPNRadio.com was named the most-listened-to online stream of any terrestrial broadcaster in the world — reaching more than 420,000 unique listeners per month — according to Ando Media. It achieved a record high of more than 765,000 listeners in October 2009. Total listening hours (TLH) for ESPNRadio.com’s live stream grew to an average of 5.7 million per month, while average monthly cumulative audience (CUME) grew 64 percent to 457,000 in 2009.
ESPN podcasts continued to lead the industry and see record growth in 2009 with a year-to-year increase of more than 44 percent (reaching nearly 127 million downloads through ESPN PodCenter and iTunes), including The BS Report with Bill Simmons, which logged more than 25.4 million downloads in 2009.
ESPN Interactive Games
ESPN saw marked growth in the games arena, including both fantasy games and casual online games.
ESPN Fantasy Games continued to grow in 2009, with fantasy-related content on ESPN.com averaging 3.2 million unique users per month, up 14 percent from last year, according to comScore. Additionally, total minutes spent with the content were up 38 percent from last year to 234.0 million minutes per month.
Registered users in the popular ESPN Fantasy Football grew 36 percent while time spent with fantasy football grew 38 percent this season (Aug-Nov). A partnership with NBA Digital to bring fans ESPN NBA.com Fantasy Basketball led the game to a 63 percent growth in users and a 162 percent growth in time spent compared to the previous year (Oct-Nov). The ESPN Men’s Tournament Challenge bracket game also received nearly 4.6 million brackets in 2009, up 43 percent and holding its rank as No. 1 amongst its competitors. Among the millions of participants was President Barack Obama, who correctly picked the North Carolina Tar Heels to win the title, but finished with his bracket ranked at 903,125 overall, just above the 80th percentile.
In its second year, Streak For The Cash presented by Progressive, a free daily pick ’em game with a grand prize of $1 million to a player who builds the longest streak of correct sports-related picks, received more than 2 million entries and more than 150 million picks in 2009.
ESPN Arcade, which relaunched in July 2009, averaged 461K unique users per month, according to comScore. Total time spent on the site for the year was 95.5 million minutes, up 90 percent. The average minutes per user are up 35 percent to 17.3 minutes. November recorded its best month, with more than 747K unique users and 11.9 million minutes.
ESPN’s long-standing relationship with EA continued to expand in 2009, with deeper in-game integrations such as full broadcast treatments in titles like NBA Live 10 and NCAA Basketball 10. The Emmy award-winning EA Virtual Playbook also extended to new sports, including NBA and college football.