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ESPN, Inc.: 2015 in Review

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In 2015, as the media technology landscape continued to evolve, creating new opportunities to connect with consumers, ESPN focused simultaneously on its unmatched lineup of live, premiere events – increasingly the strongest content on television in terms of live viewing – and the numerous new ways fans keep in touch with the sports they love via digital products, mobile, WatchESPN, apps, podcasts, and more. The year’s highlights included:

  • The smashing debut of the new College Football Playoff – New Year’s Day semifinals followed by the Championship – with unprecedented teamwork, planning and promotion throughout ESPN and across The Walt Disney Company leading to the three most-watched telecasts in cable television history.
  • ESPN celebrated the 20th anniversary of ESPN.com with the launch of a brand new, re-engineered edition of the site and the ESPN app that deliver a more personal and elegant experience across any and all devices.  Also, a rebuilt global digital platform launched, now powering local editions of ESPN.com in the UK and across Latin America, as well as a new edition of ESPNDeportes.com (serving Spanish-speaking fans in the U.S.) — with more local editions to come in 2016.
  • Another year of industry-leading and record-setting numbers from ESPN Digital Media services, with an average of 882 million visits each month and fans spending an average of seven billion minutes per month consuming content. Both figures are more than the Nos. 2 and 3 sports properties combined.
  • WatchESPN – now available on the ESPN app – had a record setting year for both users and usage, with September, October and November marking the three most-viewed non-World Cup months ever — averaging nearly 10 unique devices and more than two billion minutes of viewing each month.
  • ESPN International finalized two major initiatives for ESPN-branded TV and digital content in the UK and Ireland as well as in India.
  • In December in Mexico City, ESPN Deportes debuted its new state-of-the-art home for SportsCenter, developed with the identical technology, look and feel of the domestic U.S. SportsCenterand other editions around the world. Also as the year ended, the network acquired rights to Super Bowl 50 in February 2016.
  • And the enduring strength of the core television business, where for the first time in five years ESPN led all full-time cable networks in total day viewership among all major demos (persons and men 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54) and was tops on cable in prime time among viewers (repeating 2014, which had been a first) and the key demos. ESPN networks led the industry – broadcast and cable – among viewers a total of 59 times in prime time in the last year (stats through Dec. 14), a.k.a., “winning the night.” ESPN alone was tops 46 times, the most of any network.

“In a media world where change is constant, choices are multiplying and technology can distinguish you from the abundant competition eager to replicate our success, ESPN is clearly in the strongest position to thrive,” said John Skipper, ESPN president. “In true ESPN fashion, we will embrace this change as opportunity and determine our own fate, thanks to an unparalleled collection of sports rights and our simple winning formula – marry the best in content with the most varied and creative ways connecting fans to their passion whenever and wherever they are.”

CONTENT

  • The year began with a bang, as January 1 registered as ESPN’s most-viewed day in history, thanks to the Rose and Sugar Bowls – the semifinals to the new College Football Playoff – scoring as cable’s biggest audiences ever. Just 11 days later, both were topped by Ohio State’s championship over Oregon, an audience of 33.4 million, based on an 18.2 rating. In the meantime, ESPN’s first NFL playoff game registered as cable’s eighth biggest (now ninth) audience of all time. Not surprisingly, the week ending January 4 was ESPN’s most-viewed of all time.
  • Ratings highs were set throughout the year: the NBA Finals was ABC’s most-watched and highest-rated ever and has now won the night 48 consecutive times; the NCAA Women’s Softball World Series was ESPN’s most-viewed ever; the power of an exclusive and multi-platform presentation was on display with the first all-ESPN US Open, the most-viewed in four years and the best tennis event ever for WatchESPN (up nearly quintuple vs. 2014); TV’s most-viewed MLB Wild Card Game (at the time) was Houston over the Yankees on ESPN; college football viewership across networks rose (ESPN for the fourth straight year) while the Saturday night games on ABC were TV’s most-watched series in the sport; and Monday Night Football won the night all 16 weeks among all key male demos and adults 18-34 and 18-49. On ESPN2, weekday daytime studio shows surged with double-digit increases.
  • With an average of 11.5 million Hispanics P2+ tuning in every quarter in 2015, ESPN Deportes continues to offer the most diverse sports programming of any Spanish-language network with close to 4,500 live hours of content presented this year alone – 23% more than its closest competitor.    The Hispanic brand also delivered digital growth on WatchESPN with an increase of more than 174% in total minutes; May was the highest month to date with 17 million total minutes, surpassing June 2014 by 26%. As with ESPN.com, com was redesigned to deliver a seamless experience across all devices and reengineered to be faster, make more of ESPN’s industry-leading content easily discoverable, and deliver a more engaging experience for fans. Through the year, ESPNDeportes.com has been the top second Spanish-language sports site for average monthly uniques and total minutes.
  • 223 million Americans watched ESPN TV content (based on “reach data” for ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS & ESPN Deportes plus ESPN on ABC) in the fourth quarter (87% of U.S. TV homes).
  • The company produced a record 51,214 hours of live/original programming (34,673 hours – events, 16,541 – studio programming, equivalent to nearly six years of content!
  • In 2015, ESPN Digital Media remained no. 1 in sports in average minute audience, total minutes of usage and total visits, accounting for 30% of all sports usage across digital platforms, and more than the Nos. 2 and 3 sports properties (source: comScore Multi-Platform Report).  ESPN digital properties averaged 81.6 million unique visitors (up 8%) and 882.1 million visits (up 8%), logging 7.1 billion minutes of usage (up 6%) per month.
  • For Jan.-Nov., an average of 64.8 million unique users spent 47.5 billion minutes with ESPN mobile content, up 18% and 14% compared to 2014 (source: comScore Multi-Platform Report), hitting a high in September with 75.9 million unique users. ESPN across the mobile Web and apps – including the new ESPN app that launched in February – also captured a 35% share of minutes in the sports category (source: comScore Mobile Metrix, Adults 18+).
  • WatchESPN – available to 93 million homes through every major multichannel programming distributor across platforms including computers, smartphones, tablets and connected devices – averaged 6.7 million unique devices and 1.3 billion minutes per month, up 3% and 22%, respectively (source: Adobe SiteCatalyst). WatchESPN recorded its top 15 highest audiences ever for Monday Night Football, top five regular season college football games. The new NBA season has already delivered the top six NBA regular season games on WatchESPN.
  • The redesigned ESPN.com, averaged 62.6 million unique visitors/month, up 13% percent and video starts averaged nearly 418 million/month, up 7% (source: comScore Multi-Platform & Adobe SiteCatalyst).
  • com, ESPN Deportes Radio and the ESPN Radio app logged more than 157.2 million total listening hours in 2015, up +20% vs. last year. The three combined to generate 241.6 million session starts (up +24%) and an average time spent listening of more than 38 minutes. Podcast downloads grew 16% to 366 million.
  • The Men’s Tournament Challenge logged a record high of more than 11.57 million brackets.
  • ESPN Audio – comprised of the country’s largest sports radio network, ESPN Radio, providing more than 9,000 hours of talk and event content annually, reaching more than 20 million listeners a week on nearly 500 affiliates – over 375 of which are full-time including owned and/or operated stations in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago; ESPN Deportes Radio, ESPNRadio.com, ESPN Podcasts and ESPN’s five local .com sites (ESPNBoston.com, ESPNChicago.com, ESPNDallas.com, ESPNLA.com, ESPNNewYork.com), enjoyed a strong 2015. Highlights:
  • Mike & Mike celebrated its 15th anniversary with ratings success, reaching consecutive monthly milestones in the fall: most-watched September and November since 2011, best October ever (and third best month overall) and best December since 2010. Monthly increases vs. 2015 were in the 20-30% range.
  • The Dan LeBatard Show moved to 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. ET, simulcasting on ESPNU and tape delayed on FUSION.
  • In September, ESPN Radio announced the move of The Right Time with Bomani Jones into the 7 – 9 p.m. window and the creation of Jalen & Jacoby, co-hosted by ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose and ESPN producer David Jacoby, which originated as a podcast in 2011.
  • Ryen Russillo renewed his contract to remain with ESPN, and ESPN Radio launched Russillo & Kanell, a weekday afternoon, national show co-hosted by Russillo and Danny Kanell. It also is now simulcast in full on ESPNEWS.
  • ESPN Radio New York 98.7FM’s Michael Kay and Don LaGreca each signed multiyear extensions to remain with the station; the station also added Anita Marks and Pete Rosenberg.
  • ESPNLA and the Los Angeles Lakers reached an agreement to extend their radio play-by-play relationship through the 2021-2022 season.
  • ESPN The Magazine bucked the industry trend in 2015 and grew both its print and online readership with 8% growth to 16.5 million readers per issue. The seventh annual Body Issue further established its place as a cultural touchstone, from the online gallery’s 31.3 million views, to a behind-the-scenes feature on Nightline. The College Football Preview’s Arian Foster exclusive interview was viewed by more than 2.5 million readers, shared 185,000 times and became an Outside the Lines
  • espnW celebrated its sixth anniversary with a landmark year of growth and increased presence across television, films, events, digital and social platforms.  Highlights:
  • com broke four traffic records in as many consecutive months (March – June), with an all-time high for monthly unique visitors in April (8.1 million, comScore).
  • The sixth annual The espnW: Women + Sports Summit had its first-ever sellout and hosted speakers including Michele Roberts, the FIFA Women’s World Cup-winning U.S. Women’s National Team and Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank.
  • Stellar enterprise journalism from espnW.com also appeared in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com: The Tragic Love Story of Christy Mack, Split Image, The Seven Summits and in-depth profiles of MMA fighter Cat Zingano, U.S. Soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, and former UFC title-holder Ronda Rousey; all were topical, poignant and thought-provoking pieces. The Mack and Split Image stories were huge traffic drivers, with the Mack piece garnering the top traffic across all of ESPN in April (4.2 million views). Split Image was ESPN’s second most-viewed story in May, with 3.78 million views.
  • Strong espnW-branded content lived across ESPN platforms, including: the six What Makes Us shorts that buffeted the company’s FIFA Women’s World Cup coverage with three soccer-specific films; The Geno Auriemma Project series that took fans behind-the-scenes of the most successful women’s college basketball coach; Voices of the Future, which began as a panel at the Summit, has grown into a short digital series with written content, led by Julie Foudy; the Be Honest with Cari Champion podcast has tackled difficult topics; and more.
  • Signature espnW commentators re-signed – Jane McManus (an espnW “original”), Julie Foudy and Kate Fagan – each of whom has established herself cross-platform and has contributed to other properties including SportsCenter, First Take, Around the Horn, E:60 and more.
  • espnW was recognized with several awards – MIN award for #LifeUnfiltered; three Gracies Awards; and was an EPPY Award finalist.

 INTERNATIONAL

  • ESPN reached a long-term agreement with Sony Pictures Networks in India (formerly Multi Screen Media) that will bring new SONY ESPN-branded offerings to Indian sports fans including sports channels and a new India editions of a multisport website and app. The collaboration brings together two of the most respected brands in Indian media and sports and will provide fans a leading portfolio of sports rights and media platforms in India.
  • BT Sport and ESPN signed a seven-year agreement to extend and expand their relationship in the UK and Ireland, as well as the range of ESPN content appearing on BT Sport channels in the UK — including ESPN on BT Sport. The agreement also covers the potential for joint digital media initiatives. The new long–term collaboration builds on the successful relationship between the two brands that began in 2013.
  • In Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, SportsCenter was refreshed with new sets, graphics, music and the identical technology, look and feel of the U.S. version. The edition produced in Buenos Aires earned two prizes for Best New Pay TV Sports Program, a Martín Fierro statuette and a Tato award, both from nationally-recognized Argentina media
  • ESPN renewed the broadcast rights to major soccer properties in Latin America including the Italian Serie A across the region, and the English Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga BBVA and Liga Adelante (second and third division) in Brazil.
  • com’s redesign in Spanish-speaking Latin America created localized sites with optimized functionality for the best viewing experience regardless of device, increased video content and improved navigation.

SALES & MARKETING

  • Surveys of cable operatorsby Beta Research Corp. ranked ESPN and ESPN2 the top two major ad-supported cable nets in perceived value.  ESPN was best for the 15th consecutive year, and Disney/ESPN Media Networks was the no. 1 organization most helpful in TV Everywhere efforts and selling high-speed Internet, HDTV and/or video on demand.
  • ESPN Consumer Marketing continued producing award-winning campaigns while extending upon existing ones, including the iconic “This is SportsCenter,” “Get Up. It’s GameDay,” the “ESPN Fan Hall of Fame,” SEC Network’s “Take It All In,” NFL Countdown’s “Count on Countdown,” and NBA on ESPN’s “This is Your Game.” The team also built upon last year’s integrated brand campaign “Who’s In?” for the College Football Playoff. With a focus on the Semifinal games, taking place on New Year’s Eve for the first time, this year’s iteration of the campaign featured a star-studded ad showcasing Jimmy Kimmel, Robin Thicke, Kelly Rowland and other celebrities.  The team launched “[email protected],” an integrated initiative highlighting the late-night editions S
  • Customer Marketing and Sales (CMS) hosted the company’s Upfront presentation at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre, home of The Lion King, for the second consecutive year. This year’s event focused on “The ESPN Impression” across a broad and deep range of consumers across all screens.  Highlights from the year included the launch of SportsCenter’s midnight edition, SportsCenter AM and Volume III of 30 for 30. In February, the group launched Hometown, a new division focusing on serving national brands looking to connect with fans in specific markets.   Additionally, the group continued its groundbreaking sales strategy for the College Football Playoff, adding Dos Esquis to its broad array of blue chip partners across a diverse array of categories.
  • ESPN’s Research + Analytics group continued to lead the industry in cross-platform measurement and innovative research solutions.  In 2015, the group entered into set top box agreements with Cablevision and Rentrak, enriching existing cross platform effectiveness modeling (XPe) while informing partners of the best way to utilize ESPN to drive business.  The group also announced a collaboration with BlueKai, which has an extensive list of integration partners, including all major DMP, DSP, exchanges, and agency trading desks.  In addition to several ongoing research initiatives, the team continued developing the ESPN-led Project Blueprint, which launched in 2013 in collaboration with comScore.

X GAMES / OWNED EVENTS

  • ESPN Events owns-and-operates a large portfolio of collegiate sporting events worldwide including three opening weekend college football games, 13 postseason bowl games, 10 college basketball events and two college awards shows. They account for approximately 250-plus hours of programming, reachings almost 64 million viewers attracting over 700,000 attendees each year. The newest venture, the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, crowns the HBCU champion as Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) conference plays the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) in Atlanta. Also, the NIT Season Tip-Off was acquired.
  • X Games Aspen 2015 set an attendance record – 115,000, the most in 14 years there. The Sunday afternoon telecast ratings increased 62% vs. last year among P18-49, while there were a total of 7.7 million live minutes viewed on WatchESPN – an increase of 34%.  In its second year, X Games Austin again delivered a strong four-day attendance of 136,845 with an increase in viewership. The inaugural X Games Oslo – to be in February 2016 – was announced in collaboration with Norway’s TV2.

TEAM ESPN

  • ESPN re-launched and re-branded its Corporate Outreach as Corporate Citizenship, establishing a more strategic approach encompassing all areas of the philanthropic discipline, including volunteerism, charitable giving, reputation management, cause marketing and sustainability
  • Using the power of sport to positively address society’s needs, the company’s community investments are focused on five key areas: Access to Sports, Leadership Through Sports, Good Neighbor, Sustainability and The V Foundation.
  • ESPN provided access to sports to more than 125,000 youth, through better equipment, programs and places to play; and assisted 190,000 people across the globe to use sports as a vehicle of empowerment through Special Olympics Unified Sports and Caravana do Esporte.
  • As the official media partner of the Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America and Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles, ESPN Corporate Citizenship engaged athletes, fans and supporters from around the world to learn more about the power of Special Olympics Unified Sports.
  • More than $6 million was raised through Jimmy V Week and ESPY Day for The V Foundation for Cancer Research.
  • ESPN launched the Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards to celebrate and honor athletes, teams, nonprofits and members of the sports industry for using sport to make a positive impact on society. The second annual Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards will be on July 12, 2016.
  • As part of the company’s sustainability strategy, 85% of ESPN waste was diverted from landfills and incineration.
  • In an effort to be a ‘Good Neighbor’ in the communities where our employees live, work and play, ESPN provided social services to those in greatest need in our hometown markets throughout the country. Additionally, more than 36% of ESPN employees volunteered in the community in 2015.

2015 in Review

January 1 ESPN celebrates the New Year with its most-viewed day ever (a 6.5 rating); buoyed by College GameDay, the Cotton Bowl Classic, The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl; ESPN averaged 11,680,000 viewers. The Sugar and Rose Bowls rank as cable’s biggest two audiences in history.
    The Outback Bowl is ESPN2’s biggest audience ever, an average of 6,400,000 viewers, based on a record 3.8 rating for Wisconsin’s overtime victory over Auburn.
  3 ESPN’s first-ever NFL playoff game – Arizona at Carolina – is cable’s eighth-biggest audience ever – an average of 21,678,000, based on a 12.5 rating.
  4 Stuart Scott, one of ESPN’s signature SportsCenter anchors, passes away after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He was 49.
  12 The first-ever College Football Playoff Championship – Ohio State 42-20 over Oregon – is the largest audience and highest rating in cable television history – an average of 33,395,000 viewers, based on an 18.2 rating.
  21 Longhorn Network launches on DIRECTV in Texas and nationwide.
  22-25 X Games Aspen 2015 sets an Aspen Winter X record with 115,500 in attendance, including a single-day best of 48,500 on Saturday.
  31 ESPN Digital Media breaks its own record for monthly usage of a sports site with 94 million users in January, up 52% from a year earlier and comprising 34% of sports usage online.
Feb. 12 The ESPN app debuts on iOS and Android handsets, replacing SportsCenter, with enhanced personalization and intuitive features.
  25 ESPN and ESPN2 are ranked 1-2 in perceived value by cable operators in the Beta Research Survey, with ESPN taking the top spot for the 15th straight year and ESPN2 right behind for the 10th consecutive survey.
April 1 ESPN.com debuts a redesign on its 20th anniversary with a more personal and lively experience for fans with greater personalization and functional design across devices.
May 5 In a night both historic and poignant, ESPN claimed 11 Sports Emmy Awards – tying its highest total ever – while former president George Bodenheimer received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Also, Stuart Scott was honored posthumously and cancer survivor Shelley Smith took the stage as a presenter – to a standing ovation – fresh off her return to reporting duties.
  20 As part of an agreement between The Walt Disney Company and Spotify, ESPN will provide a wide variety of video content to the online streaming service.
June 3 The NCAA Women’s Softball World Series and its best-of-three final, won by Florida over Michigan – were the most-watched in ESPN’s 15-year history with the event. The 15-game World Series averaged 1,196,000 viewers, and the three-game final 1,912,000.
  4-7 X Games Austin 2015 digital content consumption grew 53% from 2014, and this year’s event attracted the largest percentage of Hispanic viewers (16%) in its history.
  16 The NBA Finals – Golden State defeating Cleveland in six games – is ABC’s most-watched and highest-rated ever – an average of 19,939,000 viewers with an 11.6 rating (up 30 and 26 percent, respectively, from 2014.
  25 The NBA Draft is the most-watched ever, averaging 3,738,000 viewers (P2+).
July 10-26 ESPN and ESPN Deportes deliver nearly 900 hours across platforms from the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, reaching 33 million viewers.
  15 The second annual ESPY Day Benefitting The V Foundation and the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fun – a day-long fundraising initiative across ESPN platforms – raised more than $3.85 million.  In addition to the 11th annual ESPN Radio ESPY Day Auction and the 15th annual ESPY Celebrity Golf Classic, the inaugural Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards and an ESPYs simulcast on ESPN2 and social media efforts focused on driving donations.
  16 ESPN and the NBA announce a new eight-game series of NBA games on Saturday nights on ABC to start in January.
  21, 23 ESPN announces two long-term college agreements – with the Southern and Missouri Valley Conferences – for expanded coverage through 2020-21 and 2033-34, respectively.
  23-Aug. 1 ESPN provides extensive coverage of the Special Olympics World Games from Los Angeles on ESPN television in the U.S. and internationally, plus ABC and broadband platforms.
  28 ESPN International inks a five-year agreement to televise Spanish Football (La Liga BBVA and Liga Adelante) throughout South America.
August 28 ESPN College Extra – to bring hundreds of ESPN3 exclusive live college sports events to the TV including football, basketball, baseball, softball and more – will start September 5 to customers of AT&T U-verse and DIRECTV – which is now part of the AT&T family – Bright House Networks, Cox, Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS and select NCTC members at launch.
  31-Sept. 13 ESPN’s first exclusive US Open is the most-viewed in four years and the best tennis event ever   for WatchESPN.
September 30 ESPN Digital Media reached 94.4 million unique visitors in the U.S. in September, topping the previous sports record (excluding months with the World Cup) set by ESPN in January.
October 6 Multi Screen Media and ESPN announce a collaboration in India and the region to create SONY ESPN sports channels, a multisport website and app utilizing a powerful portfolio of sports rights and the leading collection of digital sports assets in India.
  6 ESPN televises the highest-rated and most-watched MLB Wild Card Game in history, a 3-0 Houston victory over the Yankees which earned a 4.9 rating and an average of 7.6 M viewers.
Nov. 5 The Walt Disney Company and Sony Network Entertainment International finalize a comprehensive agreement to deliver Disney and ESPN Media Networks’ content to PlayStation Vue, the pioneering cloud-based live TV service which includes unique features, including the ability to play multiple streams from one account and a powerful, intuitive user interface.
Dec. 1 ESPN relaunches its Spanish-language websites, five in Latin America (ArgentinaChileColombiaMexico and Venezuela) plus ESPNdeportes.com in the U.S. Using the same infrastructure and design as the new ESPN.com, the sites are faster and deliver a more engaging experience.
  7 ESPN Deportes debuts a new home for SportsCenter in Mexico City, developed with the same technology, look and feel as the domestic U.S. SportsCenter.
  27 ESPN repeats as cable’s most-watched network in prime time among households and viewers, first accomplished in 2014.
  29 ESPN Deportes reaches an agreement with CBS and the National Football League to televise Super Bowl 50 in Spanish on Sunday, February 7, live from Santa Clara, Calif.

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