ESPN says SportsCenter's success on Snapchat is proving that the brand doesn't have any issues with millennials or Gen Z
- ESPN has been feeling pressure of late to prove it's relevant to a younger generation of sports fans who are less likely to have cable.
- The network thinks it has a breakout hit with a new version of "SportsCenter" on Snapchat, which sometimes reaches as large of an audience as the show does on TV.
- ESPN plans to tout its digital prowess - and connection to young viewers - during its first "NewFront" presentation to advertisers this May.
ESPN has been taking it in on the chin lately for a number of reasons - from the overarching threat of cord-cutting to the rise of upstart rivals to a top executive's recent abrupt and scandalous departure.
One persistent and pressing worry for the sports media brand has been existential: Does the network, particularly its signature property "SportsCenter," resonate at all with cable-ditching millennials and phone-first Gen Zers?The company's recent launch of "SportsCenter" on Snap is providing a definitive answer, said Travis Howe, ESPN's senior vice president, digital ad product sales and strategy: Absolutely.
Launched as a twice daily show in November, the Snapchat version of "SportsCenter" features a mix of young, irreverent and social-media-versed hosts like Katie Nolan delivering sports news and highlights in a very Snapchat form.
"People have asked me, 'Well it's easy to get 2 million people to watch a two-minute show," Howe told Business Insider. "Yes, but that's how people consume content on [Snap]. Arguably, you may not get someone to watch a two minute show on television because by the time they've tuned in they've missed it. So it is a completely relevant statistic for the viewing behaviors on Snap."
That "SportsCenter" is still relevant is one of ESPN and Howe's biggest messages for the ad community. And the company's ability to successfully translate its brand to digital platforms will be a key focus in May when ESPN hosts it's first "NewFront" presentation to ad buyers.
Over the past few years the NewFronts have aimed to establish a digital equivalent to the big "upfront" presentations hosted each spring by the broadcast networks, which typically try to dazzle ad buyers with clips of upcoming new shows and appearances by stars on stage.To date, the NewFronts - managed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau - have mostly served as a showcase for companies like AOL, Yahoo and YouTube as they've tried to establish themselves as legitimate alternatives for traditional TV advertisers.
But interestingly this year, both ESPN and Viacom are using the NewFronts to prove their digital chops.
For ESPN, that means touting the company's growth in live streaming, it's large mobile audience, and of course, its Snapchat relevance.
The Snap version of "SportsCenter" has "proved out a couple of things for us," said Howe. "What it has definitely proved is the strength of our IP and the strength of SportsCenter as a platform. SportsCenter still matters."
In addition, per Howe, ESPN has been able to reinvent its longstanding franchise for a new medium without denting its credibility. And of course, it's helped give ESPN confidence that it can still connect with younger consumers: 80% of the ESPN/Snap audience is under the age of 35, he said.
"The reality is SportsCenter on Snapchat is doing phenomenally," he said. "It's one of, if not the most successful shows they've launched on their platform."
Besides Snapchat, ESPN plans to talk about how much the sports landscape has changed over the past 18 months, with digital platforms like Amazon and Facebook jumping into the sports broadcasting rights battles.Not to mention that social and mobile sports consumption is only accelerating.
Because of that, the network often has to remind people that outside of the big social platforms, ESPN has a massive mobile app of its own, which reaches 85 million unique users each month, Howe said.
In mobile, ESPN can reach "any audience that you want at scale," Howe said. "With targeting and sophistication that you can't get on television."
"I can name two other places [that can make that claim]," he said. "Google, Facebook, that's it."