Mobile ESPN Reborn on Verizon Wireless

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ESPN’s mobile video and content service -- aborted last year after failing to attract enough subscribers -- will have a second act through an exclusive deal with Verizon Wireless, the programmer announced Thursday.

The new Mobile ESPN service will be available to subscribers of Verizon Wireless’ V CAST service later this year, and it will provide real-time news, scores and on-demand video clips. Video content will include highlights and clips from SportsCenter, Cold Pizza and other shows.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. V CAST will include the Mobile ESPN service as a standard part of its package, which costs $15 per month or $3 for a one-day subscription.

Also Thursday, ESPN announced an agreement with MediaFLO USA, the Qualcomm subsidiary that operates a live-TV service for mobile phones. Verizon Wireless expects to launch a live-TV service this quarter on the MediaFLO USA platform.

However, ESPN’s live-TV mobile channel provided through MediaFLO USA will not be a simulcast of one of its cable networks. Instead, it will offer programming -- including some live games -- carried on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or other channels, depending on whether it has secured distribution rights for wireless TV.

ESPN in February 2006 launched a nationwide mobile virtual-network operator service, using Sprint Nextel’s network, requiring subscribers to purchase a separate wireless phone and subscription plan. After about eight months, it decided to pull the plug on the offering, citing disappointing sign-up rates, and it said the service would end Dec. 31. The company at the time said it would refocus on licensing the Mobile ESPN application to carriers.

Separately Thursday, Manish Jha, who most recently headed up ESPN’s mobile-TV and content-services unit, was named CEO of Vantrix, a provider of mobile-media services based in Montreal.

“Manish Jha brings to Vantrix outstanding leadership, a strong passion and commitment to mobile content, extensive mobile-media relationships and global experience as a media executive,” Vantrix president Jean Mayrand said in a prepared statement.

ESPN director of communications Rebecca Gertsmark said Jha’s position would not be filled and the programmer’s mobile-TV and content initiatives will be managed by Salil Mehta, executive vice president of the ESPN Enterprises group.

Vantrix provides the delivery of rich-media content over mobile networks, including messaging, advertising and live video and audio streaming. The company’s investors are BCE Capital, Innovacom, Entrepia Ventures, BDC Venture Capital and VoiceAge.

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