ESPN Pulls The Plug On Ad Network; Millard Warns About Treating Ads Like Pork Bellies


With nearly every media company getting in the ad network game — the latest entrant being Forbes — one major player is bucking the trend. ESPN (NYSE: DIS) has ended its arrangement with Specific Media and several other unidentified ad nets, Mediaweek reports. (Update: Christine Schoultz, Specific Media’s VP, marketing, said that the company has not worked with ESPN since 2005). The Disney sports franchise says that it wants to head down “a different path.” While the direction of its new path isn’t clear, the reasoning behind ESPN’s change of heart toward ad nets is: the use of ad nets diminishes the value of their brand and content by spreading it so widely, ultimately threatening existing relationships with advertisers. All the while, the networks gain from media companies’ brand investments and their user data, providing little else in return.

But in order to reduce the competitive power of ad networks as it chooses its new path without them, ESPN will have to convince other major web publishers to do the same, Adam Kasper, SVP-director of digital media, for MPG’s Media Contacts, tells Mediaweek. Turner, for one, is said to be ready to turn away from the ad network model, though the company says that no action is imminent and it constantly reviews its media practices.

Treating ads like pork bellies: At last month’s Interactive Advertising Bureau annual meeting, incoming chair Wenda Harris Millard warned that media companies were selling web inventory like “pork bellies.” Explaining her remark to Mediaweek, Millard, president of media for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO), says she’s become concerned about “the commoditization of brand inventory by some of the networks.” While ad networks started receiving attention when major publishers realized they had a difficult time selling their remnant, unsold ad inventory – the wide range of avails that go unsold at a given time can run from 20- to 70 percent of a site’s inventory – some are starting to rethink whether relying on automated ad selling across dozens of sites is the best way to go.



Your comparison of Forbes and ESPN is off. Forbes will be selling on behalf of other sites — creating its own network. ESPN is backing away from being a part of other ad networks. Completely different things. ESPN could still be selling on behalf of other sites, just like Forbes and many other media companies announcing the creation of ad networks.

Craig Anderson

I can understand why ad networks are an attractive proposition to publishers and advertisers. Ultimately, that is why they have been succesful in the first place. However, problems come about when ad inventory is seen as a commodity. No two page views are the same.

The web has opened up opportunities for smaller publishers that make six figures a year from their media properties. For most of them, maybe, ad networks are the only way that they can make money from their inventory.

Tom Foremski

I've been saying the same thing for three years. I've been gobsmacked why New York Times, for example, would run google ads on its front page and at the bottom of the Google ads it says "If you'd like to advertise on this site click here." NYT had handed over the advertising relationship to Google! Madness. The problem is that the big publishers don't have advertising staff that know how to sell online ads. They would have to work twice as hard for a lot less per sale. The solution is to hire new ad sales people, imho.

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