ESPN Turns Off Ad Nets to Protect Brand, Content

The site recently cut ties with Specific Media and several other unnamed ad networks, and is taking the bold stand that ad selling that relies heavily on arbitrage and algorithms is not for them.


By Mike Shields
Mediaweek
MARCH 24, 2008 -

Top Web publishers are planning a revolt. Even as more prominent sites experiment with selling remnant inventory through online ad networks, and in some cases ad exchanges, ESPN.com is saying thanks, but no thanks.

The site recently cut ties with Specific Media and several other unnamed ad networks, and is taking the bold stand that ad selling that relies heavily on arbitrage and algorithms is not for them.

“We’re heading down a path where it no longer suits our business needs to work with ad networks,” said Eric Johnson executive vp, multimedia sales, ESPN Customer Marketing and Sales. Sources say that ESPN would like to rally support from other publishers behind this move, and ultimately tamp down ad networks’ growth. Turner’s digital ad sales wing is rumored to be considering a similar move, though officials said no decisions are imminent.

“Turner, like a lot of media companies, is currently reviewing all of its media practices, and ad networks are certainly a part of that process,” said Walker Jacobs, senior vp of Turner Entertainment New Media Ad Sales.

ESPN’s decision crystallizes a philosophical debate in the online ad sales industry that has intensified since the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual meeting last month, when during a keynote address Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia media president Wenda Harris Millard gave her now famous warning against selling Web inventory like “pork bellies.”
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