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ESPN: For Responsive Design, Build the Best Experience for Each Platform



Ryan Spoon
Senior Vice President, Digital Product Development
ESPN

Ryan Spoon manages digital product development across all of ESPN’s screens, including ESPN.com, ESPN Mobile, WatchESPN, ESPN3 Fantasy, and social media. He spoke with eMarketer’s Tobi Elkin about ESPN’s approach to responsive web design.

eMarketer: Have ESPN sites transitioned to responsive web design?

Ryan Spoon: There are sites that are responsive, like Grantland, and others that we’re testing for responsive. As you can imagine, it’s an undertaking to roll out responsive given our size. We need to do it holistically and in a way that is well thought out from a functional, design, content and product perspective. I can say we’re experimenting with it with absolute enthusiasm. If you open up Grantland, you’ll notice that it has different break points for the iPad vs. a 20-inch screen vs. the iPhone.

We’re always thinking from a mobile-first mentality. We want to create the best experience for the fan in whatever environment they’re in—in native applications or the mobile web. The fan’s experience could be on their phone, tablet or computer—all have different screen sizes. Responsive is a key part of the strategy going forward in that it allows us to maneuver among all those screens in a way that enables us to serve the fan best wherever they are.

eMarketer: How does ESPN define responsive design? Definitions among publishers seem to vary wildly.

“The type of content that is consumed in the morning vs. at lunch vs. in the evening and then post-game are very different, and they’re also consumed in different locations.”

Spoon: How you define it impacts how you build for it. At the simplest approach, we’re building everything from a mobile-first perspective, and then we apply that globally. What that means is that we want to build the absolute best experience for mobile devices and then make sure it’s equally fantastic for tablet and computer in a way that’s universal. We’re mobile-first and we start with the smartphone. It’s challenging to take the other approach because distilling the largest screen possible into the smallest is a difficult cycle. We need to be thoughtful about the real estate, the content, the layout, advertising, etc.

We want to offer a universal experience that renders differently based on where the fan is. To me, those core experiences are on the smartphone, tablet and big screen. But it’s a universal experience that just lays out and renders differently.

eMarketer: To what extent is ad serving and ad inventory affected on a responsively designed site? Are there any issues or challenges there that you can determine at this point?

Spoon: I think that there would be issues if you didn’t think about it from the ground up as you’re building the site. And if you are thinking about responsive, and advertising is functioning the way the web does today, then you might ask those questions once it’s launched. But that’s not our approach.

Our approach is to build the best experience for each specific environment. That means delivering content, video and scores and a great ad experience. As long as you take that approach from day one and build these things from the ground up, as opposed to bolting them on, everyone wins. Advertising is a key part of that.

eMarketer: Can you share insight into the percentage of ESPN’s traffic that’s coming from smartphones and tablets?

Spoon: I don’t have the exact numbers, but directionally I can tell you it’s changed in a way that is absolutely up. Some of that traffic is from native-usage applications and some of it is from the mobile web. Our traffic depends on the time of day and seasonality. The type of content that is consumed in the morning vs. at lunch vs. in the evening and then post-game are very different, and they’re also consumed in different locations.

“In some cases, the best screen available is the 60-inch TV in my living room via the WatchESPN app that ports the content over to my TV.”

eMarketer: Does EPSN consider tablets mobile or are they an extension of the desktop?

Spoon: I consider tablet part of mobile. Obviously it has some desktop features. But the interesting part is that responsive design, at the highest level, suggests that you are creating a single experience served differently for each device. That’s a kind of unification, if you will. So our approach, generally, is using the best screen available. For certain content types like WatchESPN, for instance, the best screen available might be your iPad. For scores, it might be your phone. And for the piece on Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday in ESPN The Magazine, which is thousands of words, it might be the desktop. In some cases the best screen available is the 60-inch TV in my living room via the WatchESPN app that ports the content over to my TV.


A longer version of this interview is available to eMarketer corporate subscribers only. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a corporate subscriber, click here.


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