ESPN Adds Original Content to Broadband, VOD Lineup

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ESPN is bolstering its original content lineup for its video on demand and broadband platforms in a move to both help operators and gain carriage for those products.

The network is repackaging many of its SportsCentury and The Life VOD programs by adding new interviews and footage that was edited out in the original version. "We're taking a page from the DVD market," said Matt Murphy, vice president of interactive sales, ESPN, referring to the DVD practice of adding content to the original, making a commitment to more product. "There is a lot of good footage from those interviews." About 10 of the 30 SportsCenturys now on the VOD platform will be upgraded in 2004.

On the broadband front, ESPN is adding four new elements. The first will be two original 10-minute documentaries covering the most recent winter and summer X games. "These will be interviews with athletes that never made it to air," Murphy said. ESPN also will carry additional X games coverage that wasn't seen on air in its broadband site.

The second will be a 26-minute weekly soccer-highlights program that only airs on ESPN's Pacific Rim television feed. A third feature will be Howievision, which follows the daily activities of Howie Schwab, ESPN's stat guru. All those obscure stats used by ESPN anchors and commentators come from Schwab. "We're going to put him on the air," Murphy said.

A fourth feature will be unearthing interviews and programs from ESPN's Classic Sports America
program, which featured interviews with high school athletes years ago. It turns out that Shaquille O'Neal, Tiger Woods and Sarah Hughes were all interviewed for that program before they became national stars.

Murphy said ESPN plans to develop a broadband version of its ESPN News update TV segment.

Murphy hopes the content will help ESPN gain distribution in the VOD and broadband space. The network has about 1 million VOD homes, but hasn't been able to crack any of the major MSOs, largely because ESPN doesn't yet see a business model in free VOD.

ESPN has had more success with ESPN Broadband. The overall affiliate deal last month with Charter Communications Inc. included ESPN Broadband. Murphy said Charter will launch ESPN Broadband to its cable-modem subscribers by year's end.

Mid-Hudson Cablevision, Bend Broadband, US Cable and Susquehanna Communications also carry ESPN Broadband, as well as several overbuilders.

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