ESPN 360 Launches New Features, Ad Options

espn360.comESPN's online service is launching what it says will be an improved video player, along with other new features., which streams live events, ranging from the niche (Asian championship cricket) to the marquee (NBA playoffs), is debuting "ESPN Conversations." It will allow online viewers to chat with each other during games.

During events, a wealth of statistics will also run on the screen. (Initially, this will be available only for college football, but will expand.) Separately, there will be a constantly updated scoreboard for other games taking place. The DVR-like fast-forward and rewind capabilities will be upgraded.

In addition, there will be some expanded advertising opportunities, including on the home page for the first time. ESPN is also increasingly inserting more ads within the live events during what would be the normal breaks for a TV broadcast. And there is a banner ad that runs beneath the navigation bar where viewers select which event to watch.



ESPN360 underwent a major relaunch a year ago, and has carried some 3,000 live sporting events since. ESPN says in September, unique users grew by 400% over the same month a year ago.

One reason may be that distribution is up some 41%, bringing the total to 24 million homes. But the service has also been the subject of some increased marketing efforts, which likely has benefited from the inexorable rise in interest among consumers in Internet video.

ESPN360 also provides some top-tier product, with college football a beachhead. On fall Saturdays, it offers a slew of games, sometimes nonstop from noon until 1 A.M. (with some games exclusively produced for 360). ESPN also began airing a mass of NBA games last season, which are simulcast from ESPN and ESPN2; this season it will offer 72.

Last summer, it carried the U.S. Open playoff live on the day that Tiger Woods won on a broken leg.

ESPN360 is free to subscribers of broadband services from several cable operators--including Mediacom and Charter in some markets, as well as Verizon and AT&T. So far, it has mainly generated revenues from fees the distributors pay for rights to offer the service.

However, ESPN has failed to ink distribution deals with the largest MSOs, Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

With more advertising opportunities, ESPN is increasingly looking to build a larger dual-revenue-stream model.

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