How Viewers Watch ESPN and Why It Matters


In what at first glance appears to be a contradiction, ESPN mobile traffic has surpassed computer viewing for the second month in a row. At the same time, video of ESPN content is viewed far more on the computer.

Overall digital usage of all types continues to grow for Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) ESPN, with comScore's multiplatform data showing it generated 8.2 billion digital minutes in October. This was driven by its second-highest number of unique visitors ever: 67.7 million.

As for mobile, overall traffic surpassed desktop for the second month in a row. ESPN's mobile traffic was 43.8 million, with desktop traffic coming in at 43.3 million.

Mobile usage
The fact that ESPN users spent close to 47% of their time viewing content on tablets or smartphones reveals that they are viewing a very specific part of the content on the smaller screens.

To give an idea of the type of content preferred on the small screens, ESPN's update of its SportsCenter app gives some insight into that matter. Since the update was released in the early part of November, the app has been downloaded 43 million times.

Included with the SportsCenter app, which can be used on Android or iOS, are feature stories, video clips, news, live scores, and other content. That suggests mobile users primarily have text, scores, and short-form video as their mobile content preferences.

Computers and ESPN
When measuring the engagement of ESPN users with video, computers easily win out as the preferred digital option. There were 346.2 million ESPN video clips viewed across all platforms in October. Of those, 79% were watched on computers, 6% on Internet-connected TVs, and only 14% on mobile devices.

Other growth areas have been on WatchESPN, ESPN3 live, and on-demand; in total, ESPN users watched 575.3 million minutes of sports. That's up by 38% over October 2012.

What's unfolding and becoming clearer with ESPN's multi-platform strategy is that mobile users generally go with smartphones and tablets for quick access to data, while those preferring computers or connected TVs use those platforms for live or long-form video viewing.

ESPN dominance
To give an idea of how strong ESPN is digitally in the sports category, the combination of Yahoo! Sports-NBC Sports Network and the NFL Internet Group (the two closest competitors of ESPN) doesn't reach the audience share ESPN does. The two also don't come close to the average overall minutes of those viewing digital content on ESPN.

ESPN averages just under 183 million for its audience, while Yahoo! Sports and NFL Internet Group together average 143 million. As for audience share, ESPN has a 34.4% share, while Yahoo! Sports and NFL Internet Group combined have a 26.9% audience share. Yahoo! Sports does better in regard to unique visitors, generating over 57 million unique visitors as compared to ESPN's 68 million.

It's the engagement factor that ESPN enjoys the most, though. The average ESPN user consumes 120.6 minutes of content, versus the 69 minutes that both Yahoo! Sports and NFL Internet Group users consume.

ESPN ad outlook impressive
In the digital space, ESPN is strongly positioned for solid growth. This is because it enjoys the two highest ad growth segments: video and mobile.

Even though mobile ads won't attract the revenue per ad that digital video does and will, the growing number of mobile ads will overwhelm that by quantity. Some of those video ads will be viewed on mobile, but the majority of them will still be viewed on larger computer screens and the growing number of connected TVs.

Sports will continue to be a dominant revenue source and force in media, and ESPN is by far the leader in the sports category. It is also unlikely to be displaced anytime soon.

No matter what happens in other parts of Disney's businesses, this is one area that can be counted on to generate revenue and earnings long into the future.

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