ESPN overhauled the strategy for its ESPN360.com broadband-video service--angling for distribution deals with major cable operators, none of which offer the service broadly--with plans to eventually convert the premium-content site to solely providing live events.
The programmer expects ESPN360, slated to relaunch next month with a new design, to offer more than 2,000 live sporting events in the next 12 months.
To get ESPN360, customers must subscribe to an Internet service provider that pays ESPN an undisclosed licensing fee for gated site.
Currently, no major cable operators offer ESPN360 widely to their customers, while Verizon Communications and AT&T have deals to offer the service to their broadband customers. RCN said it will begin offering ESPN360 this fall to high-speed Internet service subscribers. (Charter Communications offers the service only in St. Louis and parts of the Los Angeles market.)
Led by the deals with Verizon and AT&T, ESPN360.com is available to more than 15 million users, more than twice its distribution since August 2006, according to ESPN.
ESPN claimed the revamped 360 will be “the first full-time, multisport, live, sports-driven broadband channel.” Live sports events and programming offered on the site is supposed to eventually include college football and basketball games; National Basketball Association games; NASCAR Nextel and Busch Series races; matches from the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon; and international sports like rugby and soccer, among other fare.
While ESPN’s broadband-distribution rights to NBA games were not scheduled to kick in until the 2008-09 season, those rights “were grandfathered up” for the 2007-08 season, ESPN spokeswoman Rebecca Gertsmark said.
With the shift to live programming on ESPN360.com, the programmer will now offer most of the on-demand video that had been previously available on the site via ESPN.com and other destinations, such as ESPNSoccernet.com, ESPNdeportes.com and ESPNRadio.com. The on-demand online video clips, ranging between 30 seconds and 8 minutes, include highlights and news, such as SportsCenter Minute.
ESPN has put Jeff Cravens, previously senior director of new media programming, in charge of the reformatted ESPN360.com. He reports to both John Zehr, senior vice president of digital media production, and to John Papa, vice president of strategic program planning.
The programmer has already ramped up the live events on 360. In 2006, ESPN360.com hosted more than 200 live sports events; in 2007, through July, the site had presented more than 500 live events.