ESPN is introducing technology this week that will digitally insert ads into live sports broadcasts at ESPN360.com for college basketball's Championship Week.
Viewers of approximately 124 games through March 15 will see pods of 15- and 30-second video ads, similar to TV broadcasts, that will be streamed into the video player via technology that was developed by ESPN and Disney Interactive Media Group. The technology is proprietary and an ESPN spokesman wouldn't provide details, except to say that "the individual players know when there's a break and how long it will be and serve ads into the space based on the amount of time to fill."
Lisa Valentino, ESPN's vice president of digital media sales, said ESPN has been dynamically serving ads into its Web content, but this is the first time ads have been served into live game broadcasts.
Among the advertisers for the games this week are the U.S. Army, IBM, T. Rowe Price, State Farm and Burger King.
The video ads that run in commercial pods "offer more flexibility than the linear network experience, because there's more customization," Valentino said. Clickable companion ads run next to the video spots and take viewers to the advertisers' Web sites.
In addition, ESPN has created custom half time shows that can incorporate advertiser content, "from 'presented by' messages to sponsor features integrated into the long form content," Valentino said.
"Now we can dynamically insert ads instead of manually inserting them, which allows us to provide greater reporting and more metrics," she said. "We can report on time spent and user engagement."
ESPN is selling ads for ESPN360.com in packages with TV ads. All of the advertisers bought sponsorships for the entire week. "Their ads will run across the week with coverage across all the games," Valentino said. No ad targeting to specific games was offered.
Bobby Tulsiani, an analyst at Forrester Research, said inserting ads into live content "is part of the equation to monetize online video."
He said, "There's been plenty of on-demand content, from YouTube to NBC.com, but live content hasn't had the ad solution. The ability to insert a stream into a live broadcast online is a step in the right direction to help pay for video content online."
The games are being broadcast on ESPN360.com, ESPN's broadband sports network that delivers live sporting events to almost 25 million homes with affiliated service providers that include AT&T, Verizon, Cavalier, Charter and Mediacom.
ESPN360.com will continue to use the new technology to dynamically insert ads for other sporting events. "It's exciting to launch it for College Championship week, and now we'll offer it year round," Valentino said.
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