ESPN last week named its two digital pay-per-view sports
services, which it hopes will help operators to drive digital boxes into the home.
ESPN Now, which serves as a sports barker channel, will
feature live sports news from the GO Network and ESPN.com Internet sites. The site will
also include continually updated scheduling information and full-motion video promotional
spots for sports programs offered by cable systems.
"The biggest advantage of the barker channel is its
ability to provide live information, so we wanted to emphasize that part in the
name," said Skip Desjardin, director of sales and marketing, distribution development
for ESPN. "The whole goal is to have sports fans come to the site first and get some
information before they begin to watch the games."
Also unique about ESPN Now is that the programming and
information are computer-oriented, and not satellite-delivered. The text and video
information will be transferred via computer data from ESPN's Bristol, Conn., base to
the Headend in the Sky offices in Littleton, Colo.
"The technology does not exist at the moment, so we
are working on building the infrastructure from the ground up," Desjardin said.
The second channel, ESPN Extra will offer a mix of live and
taped events from ESPN's domestic and international services, as well as library
programming from both ESPN and ABC Sports. Both services will debut this September on the
HITS sports transponder.
ESPN will also offer its "ESPN GamePlan" college
football, "ESPN Full Court" college basketball and "ESPN Shootout"
Major League Soccer out-of-market PPV packages via the HITS transponder.
Desjardin said the network expects to have the initial
programming lineup for ESPN Extra completed by mid-June, which would give affiliates
enough time to promote the service.
With sports representing such an important programming draw
for the industry -- particularly in its battle against DirecTV Inc. and other alternative
distribution technologies -- Desjardin said the ESPN digital channels can help
operators' efforts to roll out digital boxes to the home.
"The channels will make a strong case for operators to
drive digital into the home," Desjardin said. "Consumers will not only know
what's going on in the sports world, but they will also understand what digital
offers in terms of sports programming."