ESPN will offer some live broadband programming to anybody on college campuses or at military bases here in the U.S. Web users in the .edu and .mil domains will be able to access the content at ESPN360 without charge.
The move allows ESPN, the leading channel for sports programming in the U.S., to grow its current viewing for ESPN360, which has delivered some 500,000 hours of video in the last five months — a fairly small number compared to what ESPN could be serving.
The move also gives ESPN another way to reach a coveted demographic group — young males — although it’s hard to believe that ESPN doesn’t already own this group.
This is a bit of a switch from ESPN’s stance of treating its broadband site, ESPN360, like another one of its cable channels. Until now, “free” access was available to those whose Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have distribution agreements with ESPN, like Charter, AT&T, or Verizon.
If sports fans use broadband providers such as Comcast, Cox, or Time Warner, ESPN360 is not available (although people can subscribe using the out-of-market package Gameplan).
As The New York Times notes, cable companies pay nearly $3 a subscriber to offer ESPN on their systems. The cable channel and its additional networks are linear and can only offer so much content.
But the ESPN360 Website isn’t linear and can provide live coverage of more than 2,500 events a year — from college football and basketball, to the Winter X Games, cricket, soccer and, most recently, Australian Open tennis.
“Twenty-four hours a day, there is some sporting event being played around the globe,” John Zehr, ESPN’s senior vice president for digital media production, told The Times. “While our linear network can only bring you one court at a time (at the Australian Open), you can be watching six different courts within the (ESPN360) application.”
I, luckily, have access to ESPN360 through Verizon FIOS, although it can be slow depending on whatever else you’re doing on your computer. But if you don’t have access through your ISP and you’re on a college campus or at a military base in the U.S., you now have the means to watch 450 hours of the Australian Open.
And what’s better than keeping an eye on a sporting event somewhere in the world while studying?