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ESPN To Join Group Aiming To Automate TV Ad Buys

Sports cabler could lend heft to group seeking to streamline TV ad sales

Walt Disney’s ESPN is joining a consortium of media and advertising concerns hoping to automate the practice of buying TV and radio advertising, a practice that remains somewhat arcane despite advances available when buying digital media.

ESPN  said it would join a group of seven companies including Interpublic Group’s Magna Global; AOL; A+E Networks; Cablevision; Clear Channel; and Tribune. The companies in August unveiled their intent to automate – or allow ad buyers to see available advertising inventory and select the best slots for their clients’ needs  – the process of purchasing commercials from major media outlets.

At present, the practice is often viewed as terribly antiquated. Buyers and sellers continue to send order sheets and schedule proposals back and forth until some sort of resolution can be reached. The fusty system remains even though digital ad sales often allow for more precision in both purchase and placement.

“Ultimately this will allow our teams to spend less time on nominal tasks and more time on creativity and activation, thereby further enhancing our premium sales proposition and client service,” said Eric Johnson, executive vice president of multimedia sales at ESPN, in a prepared statement. A formal announcement of ESPN’s joining the group is expected to come Tuesday.

ESPN’s move to take part in the group’s activities may lend momentum to its efforts. ESPN’s heft in the market is arguably larger than that of many of the other members.

The group’s ability to force new systems onto TV’s massive $70 billion market is unknown. In the past, other groups have attempted to change the way in which TV commercials are purchased, including a consortium formed by eBay in 2006, only to see their efforts fizzle.

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