ESPN360 Cuts Distribution Deal With Comcast

ESPN360.comA somewhat controversial ESPN online initiative among cable operators has picked up significant support from the country's largest. Comcast has reached a deal allowing 17 million of its Internet customers access to by the fall.

With the agreement, distribution of the Web hub offering live sports events from the NBA playoffs to Wimbledon will rise to 41 million homes. Availability will then be in more homes than a slew of cable networks and a majority of U.S. homes with broadband access.

In fact, ESPN bills 360 as a network and cuts deals with cable operators, along with broadband providers AT&T, Verizon and others, in a similar manner. The providers pay ESPN a per-subscriber fee to make the service available to a customer base. Users don't pay an additional cost to access it.

The announcement of the Comcast deal came in conjunction with ESPN's upfront event Tuesday. There, ESPN also pitched advertisers on the availability of a relatively new dynamic-ad-insertion opportunity with 360.



The 360 service raises some issues among cable providers. They have concerns about the same programming being offered to customers on the Web that is also available on TV -- particularly top-tier live sports. The distributors fear that some customers may cancel TV service, which drives much of their revenues, or drop down to a less-expensive package.

They may, of course, be unwilling to meet ESPN's price to make 360 available to its customers.

Large cable operators Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, among others, have declined to ink a deal with ESPN. But Comcast has shown more openness to streaming TV content on the Web, notably through its Fancast site.

The distribution of 360 could increase if technology that would only allow, say, broadband customers of Cablevision access to the site if they also pay for TV service were to take off.

ESPN also announced Tuesday that Comcast and DirecTV have deals that will grow distribution for its ESPNU network to 46 million homes by the fall. With Comcast, it is unclear whether the carriage deals for ESPN360 and ESPNU were linked.

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