ESPN Ponders Video ‘iPod’ Deal

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New York -- ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer told analysts Monday that the cable sports network was considering a possible deal to make some of its programming available on Apple Computer Inc.’s video-enabled “iPod,” but no deal was imminent yet.

Bodenheimer, speaking at UBS Warburg LLC’s Global Media Conference here Monday, said a video iPod deal would be in keeping with ESPN’s strategy of servicing all sports fans on all platforms.

“We’re looking into it,” Bodenheimer said, adding that while it is too early to tell, an ESPN deal could possibly piggyback on the existing deal between iPod and ESPN parent The Walt Disney Co.

Disney reached an agreement with Apple last month to allow iPod users to download five ABC television network shows, including Lost and Desperate Housewives, for $1.99 per episode.

Bodenheimer said ESPN already makes its ESPN Radio audio content available to iPod users, so migrating to video wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

“We’re looking to distribute everywhere we can,” he added. “If our fans want to access our content on an iPod or any other device, we feel it is our mantra to be there.”

Still up in the air is what type of ESPN content would be available to iPod users.

Separately, Bodenheimer also said ESPN is negotiating with Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable concerning carriage deals for its cable channels. While he would give no time frame for completed deals, he said he was confident that successful agreements can be reached.

Whether or not those will include wireless deals remains to be seen. Asked if ESPN content could find its way onto the wireless-video platform that a consortium of four cable operators -- Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Communications Inc. and Advance/Newhouse Communications -- is creating with Sprint Nextel Corp., Bodenheimer said no current carriage deals allow for operators to distribute ESPN programming on any platform other than the cable network.

“None of our affiliate deals that we’re working on contemplate redistribution of our content on new media,” he added. “We’ll have the opportunity to have additional conversations if there is interest from them to us.”

Bodenheimer also said ESPN is in ongoing discussions with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing about broadcast distribution rights.

“We hope to have an announcement shortly,” he added.

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