ESPN today at its annual upfront in N.Y. announced a series of new programming and advertising initiatives, many of which contain prominent digital and social media elements. The event, hosted by the net's Sage Steele and Mike Greenberg, featured an aggressive new collaboration with Twitter in which the two companies will combine on a series of cross-platform, interactive programs and custom ad campaigns around major sports events. The first such effort, dubbed "GameFace," will debut during next month's NBA Finals, with users prompted to post "game face" photos of themselves during the basketball games with the #gameface hashtag. The goal is to take additional advantage of significant scale and interaction happening on Twitter, with both the social media platform and ESPN selling against the effort. Twitter has not collaborated with a TV network to a develop custom advertising package prior to this new alliance with ESPN. Twitter and ESPN worked together during last year's men's Final Four, but that co-selling collaboration did not include TV inventory. "This is the first time advertisers can engage the audience around ESPN's premier content across screens and where the conversation is happening," said Joel Lunenfeld, Twitter VP/Global Brand Strategy. Future activations are planned for the Global X Games, BCS National Championship, World Series, Super Bowl and NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, among other events.
WHAT IF I TOLD YOU....: ESPN also announced a significant return of its "30 for 30" documentary series. "Vol. II" of the series will debut in October, with planned subjects including broke athletes, former MLBer and NFLer Bo Jackson, and the '82-83 N.C. State men's basketball team that won the NCAA title. The return of "30 for 30" will include a heightened digital component with the debut of "30 for 30 Shorts," a short-film series will run on Grantland.com. That site, meanwhile, will launch a YouTube channel this summer featuring video content from Bill Simmons and other Grantland contributors. ESPN Films is also developing a women's sports-oriented series of documentaries, "Nine for IX," inspired in part by the 40th anniversary of Title IX that will debut next year.
STAYING MOBILE: On the radio front, ESPN is releasing a new mobile app for iOS devices and the Android and Windows 7 platforms. The free version of the new ESPN Radio app features podcasts and "SportsCenter" updates, while a full $4.99 version features live audio. Also noted was that WatchESPN, the net's authentication-based effort for live video, is now available to more than 40 million homes following last week's activation of availability to Comcast subscribers. And network officials said today they expect that distribution of WatchESPN to double over the next year.
KEEPING IT LIGHT: This year's ESPN Upfront featured a more light-hearted and self-deprecating tone than in prior years. The effort began with a sizzle reel that included, in part, the infamous YouTube clip of an auto-tuned Skip Bayless commenting on then-Broncos QB Tim Tebow. ESPN President John Skipper at one point quipped to the ad buyers present, "We're here to suck up to you." And later, Kenny Mayne joked, "Thank you for coming to our annual pledge drive." More serious moments featured case studies from Gatorade, Goodyear and Diageo on their marketing activation through ESPN platforms. Meanwhile, Scott Van Pelt, one of ESPN's notable talent free agents, has reached a verbal agreement to remain with the network. "Feel very fortunate to have gone through the process, but glad it's over," Van Pelt tweeted last night. "Ultimately, ESPN is my home."