ESPN Powers Up Affil Cable-Modem Sales

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ESPN has come up with a new way to drive its affiliates' cable-modem business: It's put a message on ESPN.com that identifies which operators proffer high-speed Internet access in the user's hometown.

In the past, when a user clicked on a video clip on the Web site, they'd see a message that read, "Best experienced with a cable modem." Since early December, though, the network has included a second prompt that says, "Check cable-modem Internet access in your area."

Users who click on that prompt are asked to enter their address and ZIP code, explained ESPN vice president of broadband and interactive-television sales Manish Jha. That activates an affiliate search powered by Cable Television Laboratories Inc.'s Go2Broadband project.

If there's a cable affiliate in their area that's cable-modem ready, the user receives on-screen information about all the service packages offered by that provider. They also get sign-up data that's also forwarded to any affiliates.

The search process is "almost instantaneous," Jha said. It took "a couple of seconds" when he tried it out himself.

About 10 million unique visitors stop by ESPN.com each month, according to Media Metrix research. But Jha said the network has no readily available estimates on how many of those users access video clips.

More than 3,000 consumers clicked to find out more about cable-modem service during the first two weeks of the campaign, according to Jha.

"The vast majority did have a cable provider" offering high-speed data, he said. And 3 percent of those who clicked through asked to be signed up.

That's an admittedly small sample, he said, but those results are nonetheless "very encouraging."

ESPN's strategy should help operators save on the estimated "couple of hundred dollars" it costs on average to acquire a cable-modem subscriber, said Jha.

Although ESPN offers affiliates a commission for selling subscriptions to ESPN The Magazine, the network is "not looking for compensation here," Jha said. "We're not seeking to get any kind of commission [on referrals]. We're helping drive our affiliates' business."

And ESPN is also "providing more value to our affiliate partners," added executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Sean Bratches.

The sports network first unveiled ESPN Broadband — a PC-based product designed to highlight the value of cable modems — last June. Content includes sports news and highlights, statistics and standings; it also included coverage of last summer's X Games and will feature the upcoming Winter X Games as well.

A future step could involve broader marketing support, so more ESPN viewers are made aware of cable modems and the fact that ESPN.com offers "not just static Web pages, but other differentiated cool stuff," Jha said.

When asked if that might include on-air promos, house ads in ESPN The Magazine
or even flyers at "ESPN Zone" theme restaurants, he said: "We're looking into all those kinds of things."

Eventually, ESPN wants to create a means for ESPN.com visitors to schedule an appointment with their cable provider, he said.

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