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.