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ESPN360 Unveils Self-Serve Ads For Live March Madness Video Streams

This story was written by David Kaplan.
Right in time for March Madnessand a challenging environment for online advertisingESPN360 last week starting allowing marketers to place ad insertions into live event streams.  Since Friday and continuing through March 15, advertisers will be featured in live streams of at least 124 college basketball conference tournament games, including simulcasts of every ESPN (NYSE: DIS) and ESPN2 men's and women's game as well as a number of out-of-market games from top conference tournaments.  Additional games will include every NCAA Women's Tournament game, and select post-season National Invitational Tournament (NIT) games online. 

By allowing the insertion of dynamic ads into its live simulcasts, the Disney-owned sports media franchise promises it can work with marketers on making the ads in pod more creative and flexible, as opposed to offering sliced up versions of a general TV spot. In particular, ESPN believes that insertion offering will make it possible to more effectively sell its premium inventory. The technology was developed with help from the Disney Interactive Media Group and if the test works as they expect, over the next few months other Disney digital properties will quickly adopt it for other big events such as awards shows and special entertainment webcasts.

Jumping ahead of cable: Dynamic video ad insertion represents a breakthrough, Tim Hanlon, EVP/Managing Director for Publicis' VivaKi Ventures, told me. In particular, the ad industry has been waiting a long time for this kind of instant ad insertion in a number of non-broadcast programming environments, Hanlon added, "especially cable VOD, where, admittedly, I though we'd see it years agoand with it a real business model. Of course, while ad-supported VOD continues to flail as an ad-supported mediumif only cable operators would utilize technology from companies like BlackArrowonline video continues to evolve as a real opportunity for programmers and advertisers alike.  And ESPN takes two giant steps forward by doing in live streams of hard-to-skip programmingi.e., live sportsand so, this is very much a watershed."

By David Kaplan