ESPN to Sell Clickable Web Video Spots

NEW YORK will launch a new online video player next month that will allow users to click within video ads for more information, sources said.

The new multimedia platform, planned for a May 16 launch, has two screens. Video ads play on one screen and a 300 by 250 pixel ad unit that has further information appears on the other screen. Advertisers can embed links in the video that users can engage by clicking to display more information on the companion screen, sources said.

For instance, an automaker could run a 15- or 30-second video ad that allows users to click on different models or car features. The companion screen of the ESPN Motion 2.0 player would then show information on the clicked item.

“This works well for anybody that uses TV,” said a source. “It’s using video, but it takes it one step further.”

With broadband connections in over half of American homes, computer users are watching more online video. According to a survey by the Online Publishers Association, 27 percent of Internet users said they viewed online video at least once a week. Web publishers are rushing to put more video content online. Earlier this week, MTV announced plans to begin its own ad-supported online video site.

ESPN is also beefing up its online video content. Sources said ESPN Motion 2.0 would add content from ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Radio. The sports network is developing a game show called “Toss Up” that will run exclusively online, according to sources. ESPN already produces a Web-only “Sports Guy” cartoon series.

ESPN representatives were unavailable for comment.

ESPN has been an early leader in online video, rolling out ESPN Motion in February 2003. ESPN Motion now has about 2 million video starts per day, according to the company. The video player, built by the Walt Disney Internet Group on proprietary technology, needs to be downloaded to users’ computers. Using pre-caching technology to load videos, it periodically downloads new videos to users’ hard drives, allowing faster video loading than streaming video. ESPN runs video ads every two clips watched. Advertisers include American Express, Adidas and Lexus.

ESPN Motion 2.0 will move ESPN from its proprietary technology to a Flash shell that will allow 99 percent of its users to play the video, unlike the original ESPN Motion player that requires users to download software to see video. Motion 2.0 will maintain the pre-caching technology while switching to Macromedia Flash video. This will allow nearly all viewers to watch the site’s video, rather than only those who have downloaded the Motion software.