By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard
The fact is that ESPN has been the crown jewel of Disney for sometime now. It’s $6 plus per subscriber charge to cable and satellite providers (and that’s just ESPN, not ESPN2, ESPNEWS, etc) has been a cash cow for Disney. But just because they have clearly shown a mastery of their domain in cable television doesn’t mean that their online video presence is any good. In fact, it’s down right offensive and shows a lack of creativity from the ‘World Wide Leader in Sports’.
ESPN.com has taken the ‘old school’ view of the Internet or at least the non-Innovators Dilemma view which is to say that by doing the right thing gets you exactly what you don’t want to have. ESPN wants to charge a lot of money for ads in front of videos and by going with that philosophy the are sacrificing the user experience. ESPN is putting an ad, of any length, in front of every piece of video they have (or so it seems). Hey this is capitalism and that’s fine. Where they miss is when they place a 15 second ad in front of a 13 second clip or a 30 second ad in front of a 31 second piece of video. It may make them money in the short term but it will push users away in the long term which means losing money down the road and opening a door for competitors to run through.
It’s not a one time thing either. We have looked at ESPN.com several times a day for a very long time and have noticed this trend for a while now. ESPN isn’t alone in this mind you, UFC.com was notorious for this in the pass. They would post a 30 second video masquerading as content and run 30 second ad in front of it. While it may gain ad dollars on the front end by capitalizing on current traffic trends, it’s a bad way to get people to come back to your site.
There is a way to fix this, it’s called an ‘if/else’ statement in the ruby code. If video > 30 then play video ad, else don’t. It is possible. It is a choice ESPN makes to not do this that can drive people nuts and pushes users to the same video content elsewhere (YouTube are you listening?)
What ESPN and others have failed to realize is that ad inventory/space online is infinite. You can make a new page and create new ad space. You can increase the amount of videos you put online and increase ad space. It’s a TV way of thinking which makes sense since the people in charge are TV people. Problem is, this ISN’T TV!
TV has one giant luxury that the Internet doesn’t which is why TV will always be a revenue generator…there are only 24 hours in a day and that will not change as much as entrepreneurs and workaholics want it to. That means a finite ad inventory. You cannot create more time in the day to place ads and you have a hard time cutting any more time out of a show or event to run ads.
The proper way to generate ad inventory online, especially in video, is to wrap it. Wrap the player then have a 5 second billboard at the beginning of the video (max) and have, if possible, an anchor say something. If there is no anchor then stick with the billboard at the beginning and get to the video content. More people will view the video on the site because others are running a 15 or 30 second ad in front of the same video (it’s not exclusive people as much as you want to think that it is). You will make your money on volume and not on exclusivity.
Then again, ESPN may have gone this road to far that they may not know how to get themselves back.