Disney's ESPN has launched a TV Everywhere service with Time Warner Cable (TWC) and Bright House Network cable systems. The deal allows TWC, and Bright House who TWC negotiate on behalf of, customers who receive ESPN as part of their TV subscription to have access to the authenticated live simulcast of ESPN on their computers as well as access to ESPN3 (formerly ESPN 360). The ESPN online simulcast will initially not have any ads (ad breaks will be filled with the ESPN logo and two live non-commercial break screenshots), as linear advertising were originally sold for broadcast on cable TV and not online. This is unlike ads on ESPN3's live broadcasts that are sold separately and for digital broadcast only.
At launch the live ESPN streaming is only available on PCs and Macs, with plans to give access to ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Goal Line and ESPN Buzzer Beater in the near future. The company has also pre-announced service launch on mobile devices, including the iPad. Although ESPN's broadband network, ESPN3, offers over 3,500 live sporting events every year, it does not include some premium content available on the linear TV channel, such as ESPN's Monday Night Football.
The deal will allow TWC subscribers access to archived content and live feeds of the channels at ESPN.com, although the introduction of the TV everywhere model will also reduce the number of free videos.
From the perspective of all parties concerned, the move to provide multiscreen access to ESPN is very much a defensive proposition, as consumers continue to be fragmented by multiple screens and devices, and content owner strategies threaten to disintermediate traditional pay-TV operators. Notably however, the ESPN3 / TWC component of the deal is the first of its kind that bundles ESPN3 access with a TV subscription, rather than the operator's broadband offering. ESPN has treated ESPN3 as any other network and insisted on a separate payment for the service, with ESPN believed to have initially demanded 10 cents a subscription. This subscriber fee has historically deterred many MSOs, including TWC and Cablevision, from signing up to Disney's new vision for a multiplatform ESPN. However, since Comcast signed as an affiliate in September 2009, several other cable companies have followed. The TWC deal however now allows Disney to position ESPN3 and the multiscreen offering as building value in an operator's TV subscription business, rather than just its broadband products.
The introduction of Monday Night Football online is unlikely to affect the way that the majority of TWC's ESPN subscribers watch their Sports, especially with the initial limited device offering. The online services will not be available 'over-the-top' to TV screens, instead limited to the customer's secondary screens, such as the personal computer. To this end, since NBC Sport introduced live streaming online for their Sunday Night Football (SNF) two years ago, there has been no cannibalization of live broadcast ratings with NBC Sport's SNF consistently ranking among the top three most viewed primetime program in a given week
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