Taking over the world, one computer screen at a time.

An alert reader tipped me off to this story about ESPN360.com, ESPN’s online sports broadcast service.

For some sports fans, ESPN360, the online version of ESPN’s television channel, is a cornucopia of more than 3,500 sporting events each year, viewable from the convenience of a computer. For others, it’s a total bust. The only difference: their ISP.

The culprit is ESPN’s strategy of licensing ISPs rather than users. If your ISP doesn’t want to pay for you to watch ESPN360, there’s nothing you can do about it, short of switching to a provider that pays for it. While other companies strive for a more direct, one-to-one relationship with consumers, ESPN is doggedly pursuing the same strategy online that made it a success in the TV world: licensing pipes, not people. And it just might work.

“We’re believers,” ESPN executive vice president for affiliate sales and marketing David Preschlack told Wired.com. “It’s just the point of view that we have: that as opposed to just selling speed, content is going to play a role in the high-speed data marketplace.”

Here’s the message you get if your ISP hasn’t ponied up to play:

How To Get ESPN360.com

ESPN360.com is available at no charge to fans who receive their high-speed internet connection from an ESPN360.com affiliated internet service provider. ESPN360.com is also available to fans that access the internet from U.S. college campuses and U.S. military bases.

Your current computer network falls outside of these categories. Here’s how you can get access to ESPN360.com.

1. Switch to an ESPN360.com affiliated internet service provider or to contact your internet service provider and request ESPN360.com. Click here to enter your ZIP code and find out which providers in your area carry offer ESPN360.com…

That’s just a tiny bit misleading in that if an ISP chooses to pay for the access, there’s nothing stopping it from passing that cost on to its customers.  In essence, it’s a strategy of adapting a cable TV model to the internet.  Will it work is the $64,000 question (actually, it’s a much bigger number than that).  The answer to that would seem to rest on how insatiable an appetite we have for viewing sports.

And on that, I wouldn’t bet against the World Wide Leader.  Here’s the quote questioning the business model that ends the article:

But Free Press’ Ben Scott thinks the this new internet model will ultimately be bad for providers. “My gut reaction is that it’s a terrible business model,” says Scott. “The beauty of the internet is that you put a piece of content on your server, and it’s available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world that’s connected to the internet. If you begin walling off your content and selling network operators [the right to distribute content], that defeats the whole idea of maximizing the exposure of your content.”

Take that reasoning back thirty years or so and change the context of it from the internet to broadcast television versus cable.  You could have said the exact same thing.  And look where we are now.


Filed under ESPN Is The Devil

6 responses to “Taking over the world, one computer screen at a time.

  1. NCT

    Last time I checked, Comcast in Atlanta still did not offer ESPN 360. I don’t know about long-term strategy and business models, but I would pay for the service. I wouldn’t care if I paid Comcast for it or ESPN (or some other contracted distributor). The only question would be the price.

    And I tried ESPN’s automated email to Comcast. I figured it might at the very least (well, that it might only) get tucked away somewhere as some kind of user interest data. I got an automated answer that made it clear Comcast’s system tagged my email as one asking about cable TV content and not ISP content. Objection: non-responsive.


  2. john

    I hate ESPN.


  3. DawgBiscuit

    This is a thuggish strongarm tactic that could set a dangerous precedent and eventually turn the entire Internet into a cable TV model, and I hope it will be a failure of epic proportions. The Internet has always been neutral and should remain so. ESPN should just charge its users a subscription fee, not try to extort money from everyone on the Internet via ISP’s.


  4. There is a gigantic difference between the internet and cable tv: open access.

    Anyone and everyone can produce and distribute content on the internet. They don’t need to convince one of the limited networks/channels to send it.

    So while cable tv worked, that’s largely because there were no alternatives. There are plenty of alternatives to ESPN360 on the internet.

    Muckbeast – Game Design and Online Worlds


  5. Wolfman

    I assume the thinking of any of those major cable groups like Charter and Comcast is that if they provide ESPN360, then people will be less likely to subscribe to their television services. The only reason I miss cable right now is because it’s college basketball season, and I’d probably watch ESPN more than anything else. If they offered 360, then I could watch online for a lower price without needing cable. I figure it’s Charter (or whoever) who’s trying to screw me here.


  6. Munson's Call

    FYI…in order for the ISP to pass along the cost of ESPN360 to the customer they would have to raise internet prices across the board. ESPN’s contract specifically states that the ISP can not charge for the is service and have to offer it on any broadband package they offer. The kicker is ESPN defines broadband as any speed over like 750K.