‘The Worldwide Leader in Sports’ is set to launch a newly redesigned site next month that will offer over 2,000 live events. 

Earlier this week, ESPN announced a major new initiative for their 360 online video platform. After languishing the past few years under a nontraditional walled ISP-licensed model, the network will launch a redesigned 360 next month with plans to offer 2,000 live events, ten times the number offered in 2006.

The redesigned video portal will offer what ESPN calls “the first full-time, multisport, live, sports-driven broadband channel.” While the network did not expand on exactly what this will entail, it sounds like a departure from the traditional event-only online video channel by integrating live events into a television-like around-the-clock programming experience. ###



Currently only available in 15 million homes due to a largely unsuccessful attempt that required broadband providers to pay licensing fees, the network will likely also experiment with new monetization models to bring more users on board.

While 360 has been marketed to internet service providers as a way to differentiate themselves from competitors, it has been slow to catch on aside from Verizon and AT&T, who use it to push their new fiber services.

As a part of the deal, ESPN has secured streaming rights for 2007-2008 NBA games a season earlier than planned to accompany their television broadcast agreement with the league. ESPN will also offer exclusive online-only video of college sports and other niche programming which would not generate a sizable television audience.

Their presence as a television network will give them more leverage to acquire rights than competing online-only ventures like Yahoo! and JumpTV, and ESPN will likely use the online offering to extend pre and postgame coverage of popular events.

One of the major reasons broadband video has been so financially successful at attracting sports fans is the convoluted nature of the cable system operators. Blackouts and network restrictions have angered fans for years by putting contractual and financial obligations before common sense.  Sports fans have shown a willingness to pay for, and endure, the frustrations that come with online video in its present pre-convergence stage for a chance to see their teams play.

ESPN, despite having fallen behind early on, now has an opportunity to turn themselves into a major online video presence.  The new 360 could be a major step toward regaining their across-the-board dominance as “the worldwide leader in sports.”

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