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Turner Sports Aims to Rev Up SI's Lackluster Online Ad Sales

  |  July 13, 2010   |  Comments

The corporate sisters forge a partnership after SI.com spends a year trailing three key competitors when it comes to traffic.

Lackluster ad sales for Sports Illustrated's website, SI.com, and Golf.com appear to be one of the key reasons why Turner Sports is taking over advertising sales, marketing, and other digital operations for those Time Inc. properties. A dearth of video content, and related lack of pre-roll ad sales on sites like SI.com could have contributed to the decision, announced the decision yesterday.

Under the deal, Turner will sell digital and television to advertisers, while Time Inc./SI will sell print and some digital. In essence, Time Inc.'s SI.com and Golf.com will be added to Turner's portfolio of 19 digital sports (NBA.com, NASCAR.com, PGA.com, and PGATour.com) and entertainment sites (TBS.com, TNT.tv, and TruTV.com). The agreement was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

SI.com has trailed rivals Yahoo Sports, ESPN, and Fox Sports in terms of unique visitors for every month since May 2009, according to Compete's most recent data (see graphic below). Indeed, Time Inc. executives reportedly told the Journal that SI.com hasn't attracted enough traffic to lure big brand marketers.

COMSCORE.jpg

The partnership, though, will appear to give Time Inc. the ability to offer advertisers more scale and impressions. When combined, SI.com, Golf.com, NBA.com, Nascar.com, PGA.com, and other Turner properties totaled around 40 million unique visitors in May, according to comScore's numbers. During that same month, Yahoo was the most popular online sports destination with almost 36 million unique visitors, followed by ESPN with 25.4 million, according to comScore Inc.

Nevertheless, the lack of video content is a concern for SI.com, according to the Journal article. And a quick scan yesterday of the 55-year-old sports magazine's online video channel resulted in no pre-roll ads, while ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, and Yahoo Sports each had pre-rolls appearing simultaneously with display buys.

Neither Turner nor Time Inc. responded to interview requests. But it appears that the Turner Sports sales team's experience with selling online video ads could be leveraged in bolstering revenues at SI.com and Golf.com. Turner Sports' key online properties - TNT.tv, TBS.com, and TruTV.com - each offer pre-roll ads.

Andrew Budkofsky, EVP of sales and partnerships for Los Angeles-based ad network Break Media, said that marketers nowadays often call for pre-rolls in their campaigns. "[Advertisers] want to make sure that pre-roll runs alongside premium content in the right online environment," he said. "We continue to see over 50 percent of our video ad revenue aligned with pre-roll, and we expect that number to continue to grow."

According to the Journal story, Time Inc. said Sports Illustrated's business operations should also see increased revenue from selling ads on Turner's web properties. Perhaps most important, the story said that Turner has guaranteed Time Inc. annual payments of $15 million for the editorial services garnered from SI.com and Golf.com journalists. In addition, the deal calls for on-air exposure for those journalists during Turner's sports broadcasts.

Interestingly, free apps for devices like the iPhone, Android, and other mobile devices will be run by Turner. Apps requiring a fee will be overseen by Time Inc.

That particular development comes on the heels of Time Inc. announcing last week that Time magazine's content would only be digitally available via its paid iPad app. Under the new strategy, the magazine stories will no longer appear at Time.com, which will now offer online-only content that's free for visitors.

Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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