ESPN360 snags Verizon, offers up big matchup

Next Wednesday ESPN360, the networks broadband-only product stream the
NCAA men s basketball game between Villanova and St. John s, the latest
sign that broadband delivery of big-time games is becoming a viable
alternative to TV.

No matter how many games are on TV there is always good stuff out
there that people can t see, says Len Mead, ESPN director of new media
content. There are thousands of possible games to show and for us the
big question is whether or not viewers in an area have access to
ESPN360. We don t have any carriage deals in Utah so, realistically, we
won t be carrying a Utah vs. Utah State game.

ESPN360 continues to gain traction with cable operators and other
broadband service providers. The ESPN360 business model calls for the
broadband service provider to pay a fee to ESPN for each broadband
subscriber (similar to the fees TV multichannel providers pay for
ESPN s TV services. Subscribers, in turn, access ESPN360 for free,
giving them a value-add that ESPN believes benefits the operator, ESPN,
and the subscriber.

Verizon on Feb. 23 became the latest to add ESPN360, giving it a spot
within its FiOS service. Bob Ingalls, president of Verizon s Retail
Markets Group, says Verizon is dedicated to providing entertainment and
information that every member of today s digital households wants, on
their PCs, their TVs and ultimately other devices. ESPN360 is part of
that initiative.

Next week s 360 broadcast will have all the trademarks of a regular
ESPN telecast: announcers, a production truck and crew, and graphics
that will be customized for the broadband experience to make them
legible.

We ve done a lot more of these games than we probably envisioned we
would, says Mead. We ve been pleasantly surprised at the good content
and games that are out there for the taking.

ESPN360 last year streamed more than 100 live events, of which more
than half were online exclusives. Villanova is one of our sweet
spots, says Mead who adds that this is the third Villanova game that
ESPN360 will deliver this season. But this one, taking place during the
final week of the regular season, is a bit of a dream matchup.

We claimed this game about two months ago hoping the teams would play
out okay, he says. We didn t dream that Villanova would be number two
and that St. John s will put up a pretty good fight.

ESPN s regional college network based in Charlotte will handle the
production duties with a satellite production team based in Huntington,
WV serving as the crew.

It s pretty close to a local TV production, says Mead. One thing we
do different is we tell our announcers to not rely on the graphics to
help them tell the story because you can t assume that everyone has
good enough eyes to pick up the graphics on the monitor. It s not quite
a radio call but it s more descriptive than what you usually see on TV.

The signal from the game will be transmitted back to Bristol via
satellite where it will be encoded for broadband delivery. Mead says
the burden on schools it works with is eased because ESPN360 doesn t
require a T1 line or other transmission services.

This is all part of our effort to serve the sports fan no matter where
they are, says Mead. New technology is second nature to college
students in particular, and broadband is a technology that people a