The SportsCenter set.

Since TV began, ads have been sold directly to marketers in advance of a program’s air date and the commercials air at that prescribed time. This has been the model dating back to when radio was the major broadcast medium. Ad agencies rose in power to develop commercials to air on TV, to be heard on radio and to be seen in newspapers and magazines. But now, ESPN is attempting to change that model. It would actually auction ads in real-time and then insert them into SportsCenter where they would air on-set in 30-second intervals.

Now according to the Wall Street Journal and Sports Business Daily, the commercials would air on a one of SportsCenter’s voluminous video walls and be sold on the day of the broadcast. For a SportsCenter producer, it will change the way he or she has to fit content into a show. There could be a day where the producer will have to deal with several ads inserted into the program or there may be days when there won’t be as many commercials that will be shown.

These will be called “programmatic” ad sales as they’ll be sold online and ESPN appears to be embracing the concept as a way to make even more money for a network that is known as a cash cow for its parent company, Disney. The Wall Street Journal says this move is “among the most aggressive steps yet by a TV network to embrace the automated, or ‘programmatic,’ ad sales tactics that have become a big force in the online ad world.”

ESPN plans to begin selling the “programmatic” commercials in January and seems to have interest from various clients. The ads could sponsor certain segments or even individual highlights. Commercials would air in the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET editions of SportsCenter and they would be seen on a video screen on the set rather than full screen on your TV.

And as some cable networks saw drops in ad revenue in the third quarter of this year, ESPN managed to buck the trend by making money in that period. Should this new way of selling ads be successful, expect to see even more “programmatic” ads on SportsCenter on other editions.

It’s a way for ESPN to remain ahead of the curve while other networks struggle in what has been described as a very sluggish ad market this season.

[Wall Street Journal/Sports Business Daily]

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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