ESPN Brings Big Action to the Smallest Screen

by Carolyn Braff

ESPN has finally made its sports coverage accessible to megalophobic sports fans nationwide – those with a fear of big screens. For the first time ever, college football fans can catch this season s action on a comfortingly small screen, their own mobile phone. Mobile ESPN customers can now flip open their phone and for no additional fee, catch live streams of up to 25 college football games each month, such as the September 4 match-up between Florida State and Miami that inaugurated the service.

It s the exact same feed on TV, explained Rebecca Gertsmark, communications manager at ESPN. The streams being shown on the mobile platform are identical to those available on television via ESPN and ESPN2, with the possible exception of the advertisements. Due to licensing discrepancies, not all ads are cleared for use on both television and mobile platforms, so ESPN will have to do some tweaking.

If we have clearance from TV advertisers to use those ads on the mobile platform, then we will run them, Gertsmark said. If those commercials are not cleared for use, they ll be replaced with house ads.

Mobile ESPN is offering the live game streams as part of its Total Sports Package, a $25 monthly fee in addition to the cost of the voice plan. The Total Sports Package includes the audio and video players, alerts, wireless Internet access, text messaging, and now live streams of college football games. ESPN is not charging an additional fee to access the games.

Despite the opportunity ESPN has created to target the megalophobes of the nation, the network is well aware that given the choice, most sports fans will opt to watch the game on the big screen, rather than a hand-held one.

This is not designed to replace TV, Gertsmark explained. This is really designed so that when you can t be in front of a TV screen, you can catch the part of the game that you re interested in and you aren t subject to somebody else s highlights. You can tune in when you want and tune out when you want. It s just a supplement and another option so sports fans can get what they want.

ESPN will use the footage from the live game feeds to create the same on-demand highlights that Mobile ESPN users can always access from their phones, from the short form video player that comes standard with the Total Sports Package.

Mobile ESPN, which runs on the Sprint PCS network, is the only wireless service that offers live streaming of college football games via mobile phone. This year is the first in which ESPN has received the permissions necessary to do so.

We have really diverse rights across all different sports, and the negotiations for more rights with conferences and leagues have a focus on new media, Gertsmark said. It s no longer just, can we get rights for TV, but how do we incorporate rights for mobile and broadband? We do negotiate new media rights as much as possible into all of our agreements, and we happen to have a comprehensive set of rights across college conferences, which make this the perfect place for us to start.

Whether the success of these live streams will lead to universal dual platform content offerings remains to be seen.

We ve had a lot of success with the short from video, more than 75% of our customer base watching short form video, Gertsmark said. We targeted a very specific audience with very specific content and they re using it. Are people ready for longer form content is certainly a compelling question. It s a compelling offering, and it s going to take a little bit of getting used to across the industry. This is definitely leading edge, and we ll see if people are ready for it.