ESPN Stacking Its iTunes Library

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

With ABC leading the broadcast podcasting vanguard, fellow Disney-owned network ESPN continues to jockey for the pole position among ad-supported cable.

The sports network will add Winter X Games highlights and its upcoming docu-soap “Knight School” to the iTunes library, and is planning to offer exclusive content downloads of its popular World Series of Poker coverage this summer.

Two weeks ago ABC announced it had sold 1.5 million downloads through Apple’s iTunes store-mostly episodes of format headliners “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.” Earlier this month, ESPN and ABC Sports launched their first wave of iTunes programming and have sold 120,000 copies of their college football Bowl Championship Series-the network offered 15-minute condensed versions of key games.

Unlike its scripted broadcast brethren that upload wholesale episodes, however, ESPN is looking to the platform as a vehicle for providing fans with exclusive content.

For the Winter X Games 10, which began last Friday, ESPN will offer next-day downloads of highlight packages and concert performances beginning today.

The network is also readying plans to add World Series of Poker coverage to the digital download mix for iPod, mobile phones and the ESPN 360 broadband site. The WSOP, which begins in June, typically takes several weeks to shoot and edit before highlights coverage begins running on the network. Though plans are still in flux and no announcement has been made, the network hopes to offer highlights for download throughout the six-week event. The network believes the downloads will be popular among fans who chase WSOP coverage on the Internet but must typically wait weeks for ESPN network coverage.

For both the X Games and WSOP, the sports network is banking on its ability to draw fans with rapid-response packages of exclusive content that make the platform a different animal than the linear channel.

“Most sports have a very ephemeral period; you’re not going to see people downloading most games in five years-you have to capture and strike while there’s a value proposition,” said Sean Bratches, executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing for ESPN. “Plus we want to afford the platform the unique opportunity to get something fans won’t get on the linear network.”

As part of its next wave, ESPN will also add more traditional full-episode downloads of upcoming “Knight School,” in which coach Bob Knight gives 16 unsigned basketball players the chance to compete for a walk-on position with the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The network is also posting its humorous “SportsCenter” commercials as well as condensed versions of its award-winning “SportsCentury” series.