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ESPN Calls Two New Digital Ad Plays

At New York upfront, cabler to present formats from first advertising ‘hackathon’

ESPN is hoping marketers will take a swing at two new pitches in its digital-advertising repertoire, which the sports cabler is set to introduce at its upfront Tuesday in New York.

In addition to redoubling its pact with Twitter to sell ads for video highlight tweets, ESPN is introducing: Gamebreak, a video ad unit built around highlight footage for the popular online GameCast service that lets fans follow sporting events that aren’t available to watch on TV or online; and Alerts, an interactive, graphical ad to accompany real-time sports scores and breaking news alerts.

The pair of formats were the top-voted ideas at ESPN’s first ad “hackathon,” an internal event held in New York last month in which 80 ESPN staffers in 15 teams competed for prizes.

The Gamebreak highlight clips can be shared — with the ads intact — across Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other websites. “We know our sponsors and fans can’t get enough video,” said Brian Doyle, ESPN’s senior director of mobile sales and strategy development, who was captain of the Gamebreak team.

Across ESPN’s digital platforms, GameCast generated more than 14 billion minutes of usage in 2012; the company sells display and video ads for the service, but has not exploited breaks in the action for sponsorships until now. Meanwhile, ESPN sent 2.5 billion real-time news, score and player alerts this March across all platforms, with no ads in any of them.

The cabler is expecting to have Gamebreak and Alerts ready for the fall football season. Both will undergo quality assurance and performance testing at ESPN’s ad lab in Austin, Texas, before they are brought to market.

The goal of the ad hackathon, modeled on two product hackathons ESPN held previously, was to generate new ideas to drive more coin from its digital assets. ESPN generates an estimated $8 billion annually in subscriber fees and ad sales. The company, majority-owned by Disney, does not disclose revenue figures.

In 2012, ESPN.com averaged 37.3 million unique visitors per month, according to comScore. The cabler had 13.3 million unique mobile users last year, per Nielsen.

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