Advertisers throw flag on ESPN college football
Forced to issue makegoods after steep ratings shortfalls
January 12, 2016
It’s little wonder ESPN priced its inventory aggressively in selling for this year’s College Football Playoffs (CFP).
Last year the network broke a slew of viewership records with the semifinals and finals, culminating in the most-watched program in cable history, the final game between Washington and Ohio State.
Clearly it wanted to cash in on that bonanza.
But it turns out ESPN was too aggressive in its projections for this year’s semifinals, and that ended up costing the network.
It was forced to issue makegoods to advertisers for last month’s CFP semifinals, which drew decent ratings on Dec. 31 but were well down from last year’s record tallies.
Buyers tell Media Life ESPN badly underdelivered the levels it had promised advertisers for the semis, which were down just over a third from last year’s ratings.
The network had expected a dropoff, with the games moving from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve, but clearly not that much of one.
“The College Football Playoffs on ESPN delivered 35 percent fewer impressions than promised by ESPN due to airing on New Year’s Eve,” says JT Hroncich, managing director at Capitol Media Solutions.
Buyers say the network, which finished No. 1 on cable in primetime last year in total viewers, almost never needs to issue makegoods.
Luckily for advertisers, ESPN had inventory readily available to make up for the ratings shortfalls. It held back some spots in tonight’s CFP final for that purpose.
And it aired an NFL Wild Card playoff game on Saturday, which delivered even better ratings than the college football playoff semis, airing on both ESPN and ABC simultaneously.
Getting the makegoods taken care of quickly was critical.
“One concern is that many of the advertisers are movie studios with time sensitive ads. ESPN was able to satisfy these advertisers by responding quickly and giving these categories the upgraded option first, so these ads were not poorly impacted,” Hroncich says.
Next year the CFP semis are also scheduled to air on New Year’s Eve. Presumably ESPN will anticipate the lower ratings and price accordingly, and buyers will also be armed with this year’s comparisons.
Either way, the games will still be in high demand, even after this year’s mess.
“Despite the downfall in impressions this year, media buyers are not at all concerned about next year,” Hroncich says.
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