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#ARFAM8 : Cross platform measurement – How ESPN is moving the chains upfield

Second in a series of blogs by Joel Rubinson from the ARF Audience Measurement Conference 8.0 about the marketing challenges and opportunities of our brave new digital world.

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By Joel Rubinson

Perhaps no media company needs to understand how consumers choose to access their content across screens more than ESPN so it is no surprise that they have taken an industry leadership role at developing repeatable and robust measurement approaches.  Here is my interview with Glenn Enoch, Vice President of Integrated Media Research at ESPN, who has been leading this effort who describes how ESPN is moving the chains upfield.

Joel: can you briefly describe project Blueprint?

Glenn: Project Blueprint is the first five-platform measurement initiative, launched by ESPN in collaboration with Arbitron and comScore.  This study is the first to measure changing consumption of video, audio and display content across radio, television, PCs, smartphones and tablets.  It uses a hybrid methodology, combining single-source measures and data integration.  The single-source datasets provide usage of the individual platforms, and are used to build information on the overlap between the platforms.  Then, all the single-source measures are integrated into a “duplication engine” which reports on combinations of users across all five platforms.  This enables true measures of net reach and time spend across media platform.

Joel: What are the most surprising findings about how people consume ESPN content across platforms, devices, and places?

Glenn: After twelve years of work on cross-platform research, we don’t want too many surprises!  During that time, we have gathered a lot of information about cross-platform usage of ESPN content, and for media usage in general.  Some of this is summarized in our paper on the Seven Principles of Cross-Platform Research (“Cracking the Cross Media Code,” Journal of Advertising Research, June 2010).  The main idea of Phase One of Project Blueprint was to see if the hybrid methodology would work, and could possibly be a measurement solution for the media industry.  So far, so good!

Project Blueprint does give us the ability to look at mobile platforms (smartphones and tablets) in relation to TV and PC.  We find that we have about as many people accessing our content on mobile platforms as we do on PCs … and it turns out that tablet users are our best customers!  They spent over 19 hours with our content (across all platforms) in February, more than users of any other platform.

Joel: Armed with this knowledge, what will ESPN do differently and what should its advertisers do differently?

Glenn: Our focus right now is on completing the integration of Arbitron’s Calibration Panel into the duplication engine, which will allow us to do 5-way duplications, and add radio to the mix of platforms.  When we have that done, we’ll be ready to make a better determination of what the Project Blueprint dataset “means” to ESPN.

However, the mission of ESPN – “to serve sports fans, anytime, anywhere” – won’t change.  We will still be working hard to get our content onto all platforms, and follow the changing media behavior of the sports fan.  Armed with the findings from this study, we’re going to be able to follow those changes much better, and ESPN Research+Analytics be able to make an even better contribution to the strategic goals and tactical executions of the company.

Joel: Is ESPN planning to make the Project Blueprint solution available to all in the industry, including other media companies?  How do you see cross-platform measurement evolve over time as an industry solution?

Glenn: I think the big-picture learning for us is that the Project Blueprint methodology works – it can produce nationally-projectable results at scale.  The number one objective of our ESPN XP initiative was to “turn cross-platform research from a special project into a standard practice,” meaning we would have access to research on users and usage of our content 365 days a year, at the granularity we needed to analyze specific programs and properties.  We were never looking for a measurement solution only for ESPN – we wanted a solution that would work for programmers, advertisers and agencies.  We feel that Project Blueprint represents a strong solution to bring cross-platform research to the industry.

One of the great things about the Project Blueprint methodology is that it is “future-proof.”  As new measurement solutions are developed, they can be incorporated into the duplication engine.

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