ESPN Benches Mobile Service

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It looks like ESPN is pulling its Mobile ESPN cellular service from the game after nine months that saw rumors of sluggish subscriber numbers and questions about the business’ viability.

The sports programmer announced Thursday that it will cease its Mobile ESPN cellular service and instead license the service’s core content-presentation application to other cellular providers.

ESPN has already discontinued sales to new customers, but it will keep the Mobile ESPN service active for existing customers until at least Dec. 31. During that time, customers will be provided information about transferring to other cellular-phone services that provide Mobile ESPN content and receive a full refund for their ESPN phones. If they choose to terminate service immediately, they will not be charged the traditional early termination fee.

Mobile ESPN debuted in February, operating as a mobile virtual-network operator offering its own plan and phones but piggybacking Sprint Nextel’s cellular network. ESPN never revealed subscriber counts for the service, but there has been speculation for some time among analysts that it was having difficulty attracting the sports-fan base it sought. In recent months, Mobile ESPN also cut the price for its mobile-multimedia handset from $199 to $99.

The fact that ESPN is shuttering the mobile service will not impact distribution of its content to multiple wireless carriers ranging from Verizon Wireless to Cingular Wireless. It also will not impact parent Disney’s other recently launched Disney Mobile MVNO.

"Our MVNO effort created a tremendous wireless asset widely recognized for quality and innovation and, as a result, we have been approached by well-entrenched carriers about a licensing model. We have decided to pursue it," said Salil Mehta, executive vice president of ESPN Enterprises.

"With a redefined approach, we have a greater opportunity to reach millions of fans while achieving our strategic and financial goals," he added.

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