ESPN360 Goes to College

 ESPN

The digital media news headlines these days are smothered with stories about Yahoo.  It’s hard to find any articles of interest that don’t pertain to their sale of their premium music service to Rhapsody, purchase of a small Israeli music company, purchase of Maven Networks, sizeable lay-offs and more.  Oh yeah, and Microsoft wants to buy them for a few billion dollars or so. 

But, amidst all Jerry Yang’s activities, one piece of unrelated news caught my eye today pertaining to another large media company: Disney and its ESPN property.  According to Digital Media Wire today, ESPN360 has taken the bold step of announcing a strategy that gives away its 360 online broadband property to all .edu and .mil email addresses.  In other words, 16 million plus college aged students and a lot of loyal military types with ample free time and nice broadband connectivity. 

The New York Times first noted this news today.  Having worked with ESPN for several years earlier this decade, I’m not at all surprised by their interest in pursuing these two markets aggressively.  They have always wanted to make in-roads here, especially among colleges, where they see college aged students sans TVs as a ripe audience for their broadband video product.  And, given that, according to the NY Times story, their usage figures for ESPN360 have been paltry with just over 500k viewing hours in the past six months, it’s not surprising they are taking a more aggressive stance towards entering the market. 

I’m not at all confounded by the potential reality that ESPN360 hasn’t gained much traction yet.  While its mosaic style player, courtesy in part of its relationship with Move Networks, is catchy and effective, its content library is still limited and its user experience is fully tied to ISP distribution rights.  In other words, their historical audience could never have been larger than the 20M some odd users on available ISPs like AT&T and Charter and its likely to assume their regular audience wasn’t more than 1-5% of that total figure.   

It will be interesting to see whether this move is a small, nonchalant “experiment” of sorts in order to grab more eyeballs, ad dollar potential and brand loyalty among essential user bases.  On the other hand, I won’t be surprised if this is part of a “last battle” effort to see if something can be made of this ESPN property.   

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