ESPN Broadband is making slow but steady gains in the marketplace. Since its launch two years ago, the broadband sports-content provider has signed deals with RCN, Knology Holdings and Grande Communications, and recently added Mid-Hudson Cable, its first cable operator since its early trials with AT&T Broadband.
And with DSL competition heating up, and MSOs moving cautiously into the content space — as witnessed by Comcast Cable's recent deal with Rhapsody — ESPN is seeing increased interest by operators.
"It's very, very early in the game," said Matt Murphy, vice president of interactive sales at ESPN. "Cable operators are clearly now facing competition from DSL and others. The low hanging fruit is starting to dry out a little bit. The reception the last six months is different than a year ago. They need content. They need brands. Look at AOL Broadband and Real Networks."
ESPN Broadband is available to 1 million modem subscribers at RCN, Knology, Grande and Mid-Hudson, plus two Comcast test markets (Boston and Denver), which can access video content, news, analysis commentary, highlights and archived programs. "It's all updated daily," Murphy said.
ESPN uses an IP filter to restrict access to only those affiliates that have deals with the company. The four broadband service suppliers pay ESPN an unspecified fee. The content is part of each company's overall high-speed package.
"The primary reason for this service was to highlight the value of the high-speed connection that cable can provide," Murphy said.
According to ESPN, Mid-Hudson said modem installations jumped 133% over a comparable period this summer after it launched ESPN Broadband. "We can move the needle," Murphy said. "We're in active conversations with all the MSOs."
Current users of ESPN Broadband like the news headlines of the day, Murphy said. "That's where they are going the most." ESPN Broadband even carries an online version of its Pardon the Interruption
sports-debate program, allowing users to go directly to the topic they wish to hear.
"Our business is to serve the sports fan and people are now consuming sports in places other than TV," Murphy said of ESPN's online push. "We want to bring the best possible sports experience to our viewers."