T-Up: Cox Offers ESPN360

ESPN 360 A month after Comcast launched ESPN360.com, another top-5 cable operator is teeing up the service. Cox Communications will make the online sports hub available to 4 million broadband homes next week.

The addition pushes ESPN past another important down marker as it looks to make the site available in all U.S. broadband homes. Its Cox deal increases availability to about 46 million, approximately two-thirds of the total.

En route, however, ESPN has struggled to persuade leading cable operators to pay TV-like affiliate fees for rights to offer it. Cox joins Comcast as the only two among the top 5 to offer it across their entire footprints.

ESPN360.com is streaming hundreds of live college football games this fall, and Cox serves several markets with rabid fan bases, including Omaha (University of Nebraska), Baton Rouge, La. (LSU) and Gainesville, Fla. (University of Florida).



Competition could have at least partly prompted Cox, the third-largest cable provider, to ink the deal with ESPN. AT&T began offering ESPN360 in Baton Rouge on Sept. 8 as part of its U-verse service.

ESPN has been willing to make deals with operators allowing them to shift the ESPN Classic network to a sports tier, in exchange for both carriage of ESPN360 and wider distribution of the ESPNU and ESPN Deportes networks.

The Cox agreement dovetails with that strategy. The distributor will extend availability of Deportes in the Phoenix, San Diego and Las Vegas markets. It also gains rights to move Classic to a lesser-distributed tier. (Phoenix is the country's seventh-largest Hispanic DMA.)

ESPN says ESPN360 offers more than 3,500 live sports events a year, ranging from NBA playoff games to European rugby.

Comcast, the largest cable operator, began offering the service to its 17-plus million broadband customers on Aug. 3. Its deal with ESPN boosted distribution of the site by more than 70%.

Charter, the fourth-largest operator, offers ESPN360 in select markets.

ESPN has been unable to secure deals with Time Warner Cable, the second-largest operator, and Cablevision.

ESPN reportedly is charging operators a sub fee of 5 cents per month.

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