ESPN Digital Media closed another record-setting year in 2009, highlighted by new milestones and record audience growth. On all platforms — online, mobile, broadband, games, digital audio and more — ESPN Digital Media set new highs. The launch of ESPN Local sites, the successful redesign and continued growth of ESPN.com, and the rapid growth of ESPN Mobile and ESPN360.com led the way.
“In 2009, we delivered on our vision of a super sports experience for fans both on web and mobile,” said John Kosner, SVP/GM, ESPN Digital Media. “We continue to innovate — locally, nationally and worldwide — and have big plans for 2010 with the launch of ESPN New York, new mobile apps and to-the-second coverage of the World Cup from South Africa.”
The launch of four local sites in Chicago, Boston, Dallas and Los Angeles were among the highlights of 2009. ESPNChicago.com — ESPN’s first local site, launched in April, followed by ESPNBoston.com and ESPNDallas.com in September and ESPNLosAngeles.com in December. ESPNNewYork.com is slated to launch in spring 2010. Each of the sites have already established themselves among the top sports destinations for local market fans, with the first three sites collectively attracting more than 2.8 million fans who spent more than 9.6 million total minutes on the sites, according to comScore Media Metrix.
ESPN.com began 2009 with a new design, creating a sleeker and easier to navigate site, a new award-winning site search, a more dynamic video interface and new industry-leading advertising integrations. The redesign proved itself a hit, as more fans spent more time on ESPN.com than ever before in 2009. According to Nielsen Online, total minutes spent per month on the site surpassed the 1 billion mark, up 24% compared to last year, and unique users per month were up 9% to an average of more than 21.6 million. According to comScore, total minutes spent per month on the site were up 27% to nearly 1.4 billion, while unique users per month were up 9% to more than 22.5 million.
ESPN.com also continues to be the leader in online video, with fans logging in 2.5 billion minutes of video consumed in 2009. It also tops the sports category share of total minutes with 34%, surpassing more than the next two closest competitors combined. The extensive library of video content has also expanded and attracted more attention from fans this past year. Its popular weekly live program Fantasy Football Now is now a simulcast on ESPN2 during the football season, driving not only viewership for its time slot on television but also driving traffic back to the program on ESPN.com.
ESPN Insider, ESPN’s paid content platform online, also hit its all time high with its total subscribers up 18% over the 2008 year end total. Key drivers to this growth include its premium content, features and tools as well as its continued strength with ESPN The Magazine, its readers and a bundle agreement offer with MLB.TV Premium that was made available to the services hundreds of thousands of subscribers in 2009.
Following the overall site redesign in January 2009, several new extensions, redesigns and relaunches both in the U.S. and internationally followed suit. Among them, a new-look Action Sports site, the redesign of ESPNOutdoors.com, the relaunch of Racing-Live.com as ESPNF1.com, a World Cup 2010 microsite designed with both a U.S. and a global perspective and more.
ESPN was the 8th most-trafficked site on the mobile web in 2009, and the leading mobile Web sports site (reaching more than 3 times the audience of the nearest competitor). Each month, ESPN’s industry-leading site captured nearly two-thirds of the users seeking sports on the mobile Web, averaging 8.93 million unique visitors a month, a 35% increase over the same period a year ago. (source: Nielsen Mobile) ESPN’s international mobile Web sites also saw growth. Visits to ESPNSoccernet Mobile were up 379% and visits to ESPNCricinfo Mobile increased 113% compared to 2008. (source: Omniture Analytics)
ESPN Mobile was also active in mobile application development in 2009, launching numerous apps including ESPN ScoreCenter (in June), which has been downloaded more than 4.5 million times and is the top free sports App in the Apple iTunes App Store. In addition, since its September launch, ESPN Radio has been the #1 paid sports app in the App Store. Other apps released in 2009 include ESPN World Cup, ESPN Fantasy Football, ESPN Fantasy Football Draft Kit, ESPN Streak For The Cash, ESPN NBA.com Fantasy Basketball Draft Kit (in partnership with NBA.com), ESPN Spelling Bee and ESPN Zoom.
Additionally, ESPN Mobile delivered more messages and alerts to more fans than ever before — sending nearly 900 million alerts to fans in 2009, up 170% compared to 2008. The number of fan signing up for alerts increased by 117%, and the average number of alerts per fan increased 46% over the same period.
More fans viewed more mobile video on ESPN than ever before as well. Across all carriers, unique viewers of on-demand ESPN Mobile video increased 87% compared to 2008 and total minutes spent viewing on-demand mobile video increased 106%.
ESPN Mobile TV, the 24/7 mobile sports television network available on the FLO TV and MobiTV platforms, added originally produced 30-minute ESPNEWS blocks throughout the day and delivered nearly 850 live events in 2009. Total minutes spent viewing ESPN Mobile TV increased 186% over 2008.
ESPN360.com had a record-setting year, delivering more than 3,500 live, global sports events in 2009. Its distribution grew to more than 50 million households nationwide, double what it was a year ago, with new deals with Comcast, Cox, Charter, Windstream and more. The service is also available at no cost to approximately 21 million U.S. college students and U.S.-based military personnel via computers connected to on-campus educational networks and on-base military networks (those with “.edu” and “.mil” domains).
Its distribution is being outpaced by its usage growth. Viewers to the network logged in more than 17.5 million viewing hours. September recorded ESPN360.com best month ever, with a 250% growth in total hours views and a 180% increase in viewers.
In March, ESPN360.com also introduced an industry-first dynamic advertising insertion platform. The product made its debut during ESPN’s coverage of college basketball Championship Week, when ESPN360.com streamed 124 men’s and women’s games.
Over the course of 2009, ESPN Radio listeners consumed over 78.6 million listening hours of streaming radio and podcast content, according to Ando Media Web Metrics, which measures nearly 7,000 global streams of audio worldwide, including terrestrial radio simulcasts and online-original streams.
In 2009, ESPN Digital Audio reached a milestone when ESPNRadio.com was named the single most listened-to online stream of any terrestrial broadcaster in the world — reaching more than 420,000 unique listeners per month — according to Ando Media. It achieved a record high of more than 765,000 listeners in October 2009. Total listening hours for ESPNRadio.com’s live stream grew to an average of 5.7 million per month, while average monthly cume grew 64% to 457,000 in 2009.
ESPN podcasts had a year-to-year increase of more than 44% (reaching nearly 127 million downloads through ESPN PodCenter and iTunes) including The BS Report with Bill Simmons, which logged in more than 25.4 million downloads in 2009.
ESPN saw marked growth in the games arena, including both fantasy games and casual online games. ESPN Fantasy Games continued to grow in 2009, with fantasy related content on ESPN.com averaging 3.2 million unique users per month, up 14% from last year, according to comScore. Additionally, total minutes spent with the content were up 38% from last year to 234.0 million minutes per month.
Registered users in ESPN Fantasy Football grew 36% while time spent with fantasy football grew 38% this season (Aug-Nov). A partnership with NBA Digital to bring fans ESPN NBA.com Fantasy Basketball led the game to a 63% growth in users and a 162% growth in time spent compared to the previous year (Oct-Nov). The ESPN Men’s Tournament Challenge bracket game also received nearly 4.6 million brackets in 2009, up 43% and holding its rank as #1 amongst its competitors.
ESPN Arcade, which relaunched in July 2009, averaged 461K unique users per month, according to comScore. Total minutes of time spent on the site for the year was 95.5 million minutes, up 90%. The average minutes per user are up 35% to 17.3 minutes. November recorded its best month ever, with more than 747K unique users and 11.9 million minutes.