ESPN Classic Converts To On-Demand On Dish

Vintage Sports Net Begins Transition Away from Linear Status

The transition of ESPN Classic from a linear service to an on-demand service is underway.

Starting on Oct. 1, Dish Network will begin offering content from the vintage sports service via an on-demand basis through set-top boxes,

Subscribers at the No. 2 DBS provider who receive ESPN networks as part of their video subscription will have immediate access to on-demand programming from ESPN Classic via the STB, Dish Anywhere app and, A digital content offering through WatchESPN is slated to launch in early 2015.

The changeover marks the beginning of the end for the linear network ESPN purchased for $175 million in 1997 from a group that included founder Brian Bedol. In 2009, ESPN switched ESPN Classic to a sports-tier positioning, exchanging its carriage with that of ESPNU, which has become a more critical service for the worldwide leader’s vast collegiate sports properties.

An ESPN spokeswoman said the move emanated from the. comprehensive carriage agreement the sports programmer’s parent The Walt Disney Co. reached with Dish last March, following a lengthy negotiating period. That pact has also opened the door for Dish pushing toward an OTT service, perhaps under the “nuTV” banner. In addition to Disney content, Dish has secured streaming rights from Scripps and A&E Networks.

“There was appeal on both sides for ESPN Classic to move to an on-demand service,” said the spokesman.

She offered no time frame as to when the linear network, which currently counts some 27 million subscribers, would be converted to on-demand with other carriers. When it was swapped for ESPNU five years ago, ESPN Classic counted some 64 million subscribers.

Dish officials said there was no imminent announcement as to what service might succeed ESPN Classic in its erstwhile linear channel position.

“As fans continue to evolve the way they consume content, making ESPN Classic an on-demand offering is the logical next step,” said David Preschlack, executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for Disney and ESPN Media Networks.  “It is a powerful consumer proposition and a great example of how we are collaborating with our partners to free up bandwidth, allowing them to better serve customers.”

The game plan calls for the archived fare to follow the sports seasons. By the end of the month, some 600 hours will be accessible, with classic college football and basketball serving as preludes to the inaugural College Football Playoff and later March Madness.

Some events that will be made available through the end of the year include:

*College football -- more than 200 games highlighted by the last five BCS Championship games, all-time great bowl games such as the 1973 Sugar Bowl between Notre Dame vs. Alabama and marquee rivalries including Florida State vs. Miami.

*College basketball -- More than 50 games through 2014 alone, highlighted by a dozen Jimmy V Classic events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Jimmy V tournament, including Indiana vs. UNC in 1999, Duke vs. Kentucky in 2001, Michigan State vs. Syracuse in 2010, Jimmy V’s legendary speech and more.