ESPN recently decided to stop selling remnant ad inventory via automated ad networks / exchanges.

“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.

The two logical options from there are

  1. set a floor price on house content and show fewer ads to offer a better user experience
  2. look at currently hot stories, key markets in the weeks and months ahead, and market positions where you are close to leading but do not yet dominate and advertise your own products and services
  3. Advertise branded widgets that go on third party networks which help get your brand exposure on those as well. ESPN should have made an official NCAA bracket gadget rather than letting that traffic and branding and traffic go to Google
  4. add interactive features to your own site which increase brand loyalty and reduce content creation costs…which end up making the ad networks a more viable offering for back-fill content
  5. If the ad networks are too cheap buy out inventory on competing sites to further distance yourself from them as the market leader.

All of those strategies allow you to buy market-share in your vertical on the cheap. The more of your market you own the better you will be able to sell ads for. If ESPN was 60% of the sports market Nike would be required to buy ads with them, largely based on ESPN’s terms. Part of being remarkable is about creating featured content, but an equally important piece is making sure you are branded as the leading source. There is no better place to market your content and ideas than your own site.

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