UPDATE 1-Disney CFO: ESPN ad sales slightly ahead of last year

Wed Dec 5, 2012 3:37pm EST

NEW YORK Dec 5 (Reuters) - Advertising sales at Walt Disney Co's sports powerhouse ESPN are running slightly ahead of the level they reached at the same point last year, Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said on Wednesday.

At the ESPN cable television network, "we have now seen a slight improvement" in the pace of ad sales compared with a year ago, Rasulo said at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference.

The assessment for the cable network, a key driver of Disney results, was rosier than the one Rasulo gave when the company released quarterly earnings on Nov. 8. At that time, Rasulo said quarter-to-date ESPN ad sales were "pacing down modestly."

Rasulo declined to comment on ad sales at ABC, which like other broadcast networks has suffered from a ratings decline this fall. Among the broadcasters, only Comcast Corp's NBC has seen primetime viewership increase compared with last year.

ABC took a big ratings hit with the network's decision to have past top-rated contestants on "Dancing with the Stars" face off in an all-star competition, Rasulo said.

"It didn't work out," Rasulo said, perhaps because "people didn't want to see people they knew could dance, they wanted to see people who couldn't dance.

"It's not easy to be a taste-master in programming a network," he said.