Turbo Tax Becomes First Programmatic Ad Buyer on ESPN’s SportsCenter

January 14, 2015 Mike Shields

ESPN has sold its first “programmatic” ad for “SportsCenter,” the sports TV juggernaut’s flagship news and highlights show.

This past weekend, Turbo Tax ran a 30-second ad during the Saturday 1 a.m.  edition of”SportsCenter.” ESPN says Turbo Tax purchased that ad via a Web-based auction, marking the first such “programmatic” ad the network has sold as part of a new initiative announced last month.

The ad did not run during a standard commercial break; instead, one of the show’s anchors announced “SportsCenter will be right back in 30-seconds,” and then ESPN cut to the ad, which was played on a giant video screen on the “SportsCenter” set.

Interestingly, even as ESPN’s cameras panned over to the “SportsCenter” video screen, the Turbo Tax ad never took over the full TV screen. A clock was persistent above the ad, counting down how much time was left in the ad before fans would see more “SportsCenter” highlights. And when the ad was over, one of the show’s anchors said “back on SportsCenter,” before jumping into some NBA highlights.

Although it ran rather late at night, this Turbo Tax ad is potentially groundbreaking for the TV business. Networks have generally been reluctant to adopt the Web-based auctions that are common in online advertising, fearful that it could lead to low prices for what should be premium inventory. There are signs programmatic approaches are slowly starting to gain traction, however, and ESPN wants to get out in front of the wave.

ESPN built out its own set of tools designed to let advertisers bid on select “SportsCenter” ads each day. The sports network believes that if Web-based ad buying takes hold in the TV world, ESPN will have inventory that commands premium prices.

An ESPN spokeswoman said Turbo Tax outbid several other advertisers for the right to air the spot. She would not comment on the price the advertiser paid in this case.

 

Source: The Wall Street Journal CMO Blog

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