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In 2011, ESPN continued to lead the way in the digital space across all platforms while also growing its audience to new levels. Major distribution and rights deals, collaborations and product launches over the past year have bolstered ESPN’s reach across ESPN.com, ESPN3, WatchESPN, ESPN Mobile, Digital Audio, Fantasy, Games and Social Media to more fans than ever before.
“2011 was another terrific year for ESPN in digital media,” said John Kosner, senior vice president and general manager, ESPN Digital and Print Media. “Our best available screen philosophy combined with innovation, technology and personalization have guided us to build and enhance terrific products and services that are forward thinking, easy to use and targeted to the sports fan. We have created a digital portfolio that not only serves the interests of these fans, but also adds value to affiliates, rights holders and advertisers.”
ESPN.com led the sports category with an average minute audience of nearly 77,000 users on the site at any given minute across a month in 2011. It also led the category with 3.3 billion total minutes per month and captured nearly a third (32 percent) of all minutes spent with sports sites online. Additionally, ESPN.com averaged 41.8 million unique visitors per month (comScore). Compared to last year, ESPN.com’s monthly average minute audience was up 10 percent and daily unique visitors up 8 percent.
Specifically, the NBA section on ESPN.com logged an average minute audience of 10,000 during the 2010-11 season, up 30 percent compared to the previous season. The NFL and College Football sections on the site during their 2011-12 seasons also logged an average minute audience of 11,000 and 15,000 respectively – both up 8 percent compared to the previous year.
It reached a milestone in 2011 with a Sports category record 4.7 billion total minutes consumed and an average minute audience of 108,000 in September, up 18 percent compared to the same month the previous year. Additionally, ESPN reached 52.2 million unique visitors in September, the most unique visitors ever across a single month for ESPN.com and up 27 percent from the prior year.
Video on ESPN.com continues to lead the category, as fans watched nearly 1.9 billion videos in 2011 (Adobe/Omniture). It logged more than 39 percent of all sports related video streams in 2011, up 41 percent vs. 2010 (Adobe/Omniture) and 253 percent more than the streams of its closest competitor (Nielsen VideoCensus).
The five ESPN Local sites in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Dallas are also among the top local sports destinations for fans in each respective market. At its two-year anniversary in April 2011, the sites on average collectively reached 8.7 million unique visitors and generated 77.2 million minutes per month (comScore unified measurement, Sep 2010-Mar 2011). The sites also ended the year on a high note, logging its best month ever in December with 10.8 million unique visitors and 117.8 million total minutes.
2011 also saw the launch of Grantland.com in June, the new home for Bill Simmons and a lineup of writers and editors featuring sports and pop culture web content. In just six months, the site has maintained a loyal audience of nearly 2.3 million unique visitors who generate 27 million minutes per month.
ESPN Insider also continued to grow in subscribers, which grew to over 640,000 in 2011, up over 12 percent compared to the year-end in 2010. It continues to be one of the most successful premium content services online, and in 2011, launched ESPN Recruiting Nation that features specialized premium content focused on some of the top college programs in the country, including USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, LSU and Alabama.
WatchESPN & ESPN3
The launch of WatchESPN in April 2011 marked a groundbreaking extension of ESPN’s best available screen philosophy and a dream come true for sports fans. Since then, the app has been downloaded over 5.6 million times, and the online-accessible authenticated version was renamed from ESPNnetworks.com to WatchESPN.com in August. The service delivers live access to ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3 and ESPN Buzzer Beater/Goal Line via authentication on computers, smartphones and tablets to Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Verizon FiOS TV and soon to Comcast Xfinity video subscribers.
Once again, ESPN3 continued to evolve and innovate to what it’s now known as a standalone live multi-screen sports network. It is the only ESPN network that is accessible not only online at WatchESPN.com and on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app, but also through an interactive viewer experience on TV screens via ESPN on Xbox LIVE. ESPN3 is now accessible to approximately 70 million households nationwide and delivered 5,000 live events in 2011.
More and more fans are coming to ESPN3 for their college sports, with more than 6.1 million unique viewers that generated 11.6 million total hours consumed during the 2011 regular college football season on computers, up 19 percent compared to the previous year (Adobe/Omniture). Additionally, non-BCS bowl games alone generated 103.2 million minutes consumed on ESPN3 online, bringing the total minutes per game up 36 percent compared to the 2010-11 season. Including BCS bowl games, all bowl games across all platforms generated 253.6 million minutes consumed, up 50 percent vs. last year. Additionally, total hours consumed for college basketball during the 2010-11 regular season on ESPN3 were up over 35 percent. It also averaged more than 1.1 million unique viewers per month during the regular season in 2011.
Additionally in 2011, ESPN3 collaborated with several college conferences to distribute exclusive events on the national network. New deals signed throughout the year – including the Sun Belt, Southern Conference, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Colonial Athletic Association, Missouri Valley Conference, America East Conference, Atlantic Sun Conference, Big West Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference – have bolstered the total number of exclusive events in the 2011-2012 college football and basketball season to over 320 games, nearly triple the amount of games the previous season.
- NBA: 2010-2011 regular season generated nearly 115 million minutes consumed, up 178 percent compared to the previous season, while the Playoffs delivered 1.2 million unique viewers and 110 million minutes consumed;
- Soccer: 2011-2012 international season kicked off with 1.1 million monthly unique viewers in August. ESPN carried more than 1,100 live matches in 2011, including MLS, the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Barclays Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, German Bundesliga, Dutch Eredivisie, Italian Serie A, Euro qualifiers, international friendlies and more;
- Tennis: With its latest deal signed with the WTA in October 2011, ESPN3 is now the destination for year-round tennis, carrying all four Grand Slam tournaments, all ATP World Tour 500 and ATP Masters 1000 events – including Indian Wells and Miami – the WTA Premier events, and the season-ending championships of both tours – the TEB-BNP Paribas WTA Championships and Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. In 2011, tennis on ESPN3 accounted for over 3,000 live hours, including more than 2,200 exclusive hours;
- Cricket: ESPN3 is slated to carry 1,500 total hours of exclusive live cricket coverage over the next four years in the U.S. through agreements with Champions League Twenty20 and major ICC events including the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup signed in March 2011;
- College Sports: Extensive coverage of the NCAA Championships highlight the broad slate of programming ESPN3 now carries across college sports, including baseball, softball, lacrosse, wrestling, track & field, field hockey, hockey, swimming & diving and volleyball. The network delivered close to 400 events in 2011.
The ESPN mobile Web site maintained its position as the leading mobile Web sports site for the 5th year in a row, and is also the 8th most-trafficked site on the mobile Web overall in 2011. Each month, ESPN’s industry-leading sites – including international sites from ESPN Deportes, ESPNsoccernet and ESPNcricinfo – captured more than 17.6 million (69 percent) of users seeking sports on the mobile Web (Nielsen, Jan-Nov 2011).
Additionally, ESPN applications across all mobile devices generated an average of 2.2 million unique visitors per month in 2011 (Adobe/Omniture). Its most popular app, ESPN ScoreCenter, was made available on Windows Phone 7 devices in March 2011, and has been downloaded more than 24 million times across three major smartphone platforms (iPhone, Android and WP7) and has averaged 1.8 million daily unique visitors a day with an average minute audience of 17,304. Since going free this past season, the ESPN Fantasy Football iOS app has been downloaded over 1.4 million times, while the Android version has over 850,000 downloads.
Alerts continued to deliver the latest news, scores and highlights to fans in 2011. Throughout the year, ESPN sent 8.8 billion alerts, up 251 percent, to over 11 million active subscribers, up 204 percent. ESPN Mobile TV also carried more than 1,035 live events throughout the year.
ESPNRadio.com continued to log strong numbers, averaging more than 1.7 million unique listeners that log over 10 million total listening hours and 14.1 million session starts per month (Ando Media). In 2011, it reached a new record quarter, logging more than 30.45 million total listening hours and over 28 million session starts, up 24 percent and 10 percent from its previous record quarter in 2010 driven by the 2010 FIFA World Cup. And in July, the new ESPN Audio NOW player was launched to include personalization features, searchable audio and play, pause and rewind functionality for up to 3 hours of audio.
In May 2011, the ESPN Radio app was named Best Radio App by Radio Ink Magazine at the Digital Convergence Awards. It continues to be one of the most popular paid sports apps in the App Store.
ESPN Podcasts also recorded a year-to-year increase of more than 129 percent, reaching 358 million downloads through the ESPN PodCenter and iTunes, including its most popular podcast The BS Report with Bill Simmons, which logged more than 92 million downloads in 2011 (up 120 percent). ESPN was also awarded Best in Sports in the 7th Annual Podcast Awards for the third consecutive year, with the win going to ESPN Fantasy Focus Football in 2011.
Total registered players for ESPN fantasy were up 12 percent in 2011. Unique users entering the popular ESPN Fantasy Football 2011 game were up 19 percent from the 2010 season. During Sundays over the first month of Fantasy Football 2011, the section gathered more than 100 million page views, accounting for nearly 50 percent of all site traffic (Adobe/Omniture). Other highlights include ESPN NBA.com Fantasy Basketball 2011-12 (up 23 percent), Fantasy Baseball 2011 (up 9 percent), 2011 Men’s Tournament Challenge (up 24 percent) and ESPN Fantasy Hockey 2012 (up 26 percent). The Fantasy team also expanded its international reach in 2011, launching a total of five games across ESPNdeportes.com, ESPNsoccernet.com (Fantasy Premier) and ESPNcricinfo.com (Cricket Pick ‘Em).
Now in its fourth year, Streak For The Cash presented by Progressive has logged more than 450 million picks made since it was first launched in August 2008. Earlier this year – after 8 months of not being reached – the Streak for the Cash “stash” was finally won on August 31, earning a 32-year Boston man $450,000 cash. The $450,000 was the third largest payout in the game’s history and in total over $1.3 million in cash prizes were awarded in 2011.
ESPN Games & Social Media
ESPN continued to break through the gaming space in 2011, with a newly redesigned user interface coupled with brand new personalization features, tools and more on ESPN on Xbox LIVE in August 2011. The service continues to deliver live and replay events from ESPN3, video on demand clips from ESPN.com and more to Xbox 360 consoles.
In July, ESPN and Playdom continued its collaboration to develop and launch its sophomore social game, ESPN Sports Bar & Grill. The game surpassed 1.2 million monthly active users in just its first six weeks. Additionally, ESPN.com’s casual games destination, ESPN Arcade, logged the most average time spent per visit site-wide in 2011 (Adobe/Omniture).
ESPN and EA continued their long-standing relationship with a collaboration of the EA SPORTS Madden NFL 12 cover vote, a cross-platform and programming campaign across ESPN, ESPNSportsNation.com online and via the mobile Web. The campaign, which relied heavily on social media, logged 13 million votes, the most ESPN votes ever for a joint collaboration. The Emmy-award winning Virtual Playbook also branched into new sports categories in 2011, including boxing and golf. And most recently, ESPN and EA developed a new iteration of Virtual Playbook for the 2012 BCS bowl games titled EA SPORTS Game View. Additionally, deeper brand integrations continued in EA titles such as NCAA Football 12 and Fight Night Champion.
ESPN Baseball Tonight continued to present new in-studio technology for Virtual Pitch during the 2011 regular season developed in collaboration with Sony and their MLB The Show title for PlayStation 3 consoles. The technology creates an interactive environment where analysts break down pitchers and delivery, show the perspective of the batter, what to look for and more.
In the social media space, ESPN collaborated with foursquare in August 2011 to supply sports venue data on their newly launched Events platform, enhancing the check-in experience at sporting events with game time, teams, venue, location information and more. With the new feature, fans are not only able to share their check-ins at the venue, but also access all the news and information from ESPN about the game.
Additionally, ESPN’s fans on Facebook and Twitter grew to 23 million and 21 million, respectively in 2011 (up 130 percent and 133 percent). ESPN also drove 128.5 million views on YouTube throughout the year, up 125 percent.