Byline: staci d. kramer

ESPN, which last week unveiled EXPN, an action sports on-demand offering, has been been building a VOD library for three years, each monthadding a half-dozen or so titles from its Sports Century series, games and other shows for viewing at suggested prices ranging from $.99 to $4.99.

The most popular so far have proved to be entertainment genres such as greatest knockout collections and blooper reels. “We’ve been out in the VOD game ever since Intertainer and Diva launched three years ago. It’s taken on a whole new life since cable operators started pushing,” says Matt Murphy, ESPN VP-VOD and PPV.

The complete results aren’t in yet from the sports programmer’s most dramatic VOD ploy: releasing the Bobby Knight bio Season on the Brink on VOD within 24 hours of its premiere. The network wanted to see if the on-air and off-air hype for the movie would carry over to VOD.

Since Season was ESPN’s first original movie, the network doesn’t have anything to compare it against. The closest comparison was a noticeable spike in the Ali titles in the VOD library when the well-publicized Will Smith film was released late last year. Murphy says that showed “we can benefit a little bit from the backdraft of the promotion we do for our shows or even from other events.”

The trial status of VOD allowed ESPN to release the movie even before the reruns began airing on its own networks. “One of the reasons we’re able to do it now is it’s so early in the VOD game, there’s not enough distribution that it would have any negative affect on future airs. Going forward, we certainly do have to be more sensitive to things like that.”

ESPN is leveraging the popularity of the X Games with its new SVOD effort, which will launch with February’s Winter X Games. A multiplatform subscription on-demand service, it will combine daily updated content from the Games with sports video, audio, music and broadband content. “There’s many different ways to slice SVOD,” says Murphy. “It can be a single-sport package with X number of titles, it can be grouped by genre, it can borrow a page from the basic cable model and offer different genres at the same price. Now is a time to experiment and learn from these types of experiments, learn their preferences, their behaviors…. Never underestimate the mind-set of a sports fan. They’re rabid.”

Murphy says ESPN has discussed on-demand strategies with almost every top ten MSO. “Now that it is up and running and they’re really accelerating their rollouts, conversations are heating up.”

ESPN’s on-demand possibilities are heating up along with VOD rollouts.

“The on-demand wave cannot be stopped whether it be via PVR or video-on-demand. Whatever it is, either you can wait for it to hit you and be caught off guard – or be aggressive and proactive and figure out a way when it won’t destroy your existing business model. This as an opportunity to grow, because cable has to be very proactive. Their battle is against the consumer electronics industry. This can either be a PVR world or an on-demand world through set-tops.”

COPYRIGHT 2002 Copyright by Media Central Inc., A PRIMEDIA Company. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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