ESPN On Demand Lands on Comcast Cable

ESPN On Demand has arrived on Comcast, offering the cable giant’s approximately 17 million digital cable subscribers the chance to watch selected ESPN programming without commercial interruption.

The new platform, which hit Comcast subscribers’ video-on-demand (VOD) menus earlier this week, features content ranging from original ESPN content to all-inclusive coverage of ESPN’s major sporting events to full replays of classic games.

“Essentially, this is just tying in with our philosophy of ‘serving fans where fans are,’” says John Lasker, senior director of programming and acquisitions, ESPN Digital Media. “Albeit sports doesn’t lend itself to VOD like some other major entertainment network’s programming would, but there are still fans that crave certain sports content, and we’re trying to cater to that need.”

Much of the new platform’s programming will revolve around ESPN’s upcoming major events, such as Winter X Games 14 in Aspen, CO, and the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. This year’s Winter X Games, which run Jan. 28-31, will be featured heavily in ESPN On Demand programming. There is already 10 hours of X Games content available, including X Games feature stories and classic events from last year.

“What we try to do with big events — specifically, things like X Games and World Cup — is not necessarily just program the specific events but actually program around the events,” Lasker says. “While the event is happening, we’ll be programming highlights-driven things on a daily basis. After the fact, we do some packaging on a genre-to-genre basis, so there will be like a snowboard summary from the four-day event. That way, somebody that’s particularly interested in snowboarding can go in and watch all the highlights for snowboarding in one swoop. “

Lasker expects to handle on-demand World Cup programming in much the same way. The platform will introduce classic World Cup games, which are yet to be determined, a few weeks before the event’s June 11 start date and then feed off content from the ESPN linear networks to provide highlights, features, and World Cup live shows once play has begun.

The highlight of ESPN On Demand looks to be the network’s 30 for 30 documentary-film series, which lies in the more traditional VOD programming vein. All 15 of the one-hour films that have aired on ESPN are currently available on the service. As the second round of films begins to premiere this March, the films’ availability will rotate depending on the season.

“For example, the Gretzky film (“Kings Ransom”) is up now, but it might not be there over the summer. We’ll rotate them in when they’re actually most relevant to our fans,” Lasker says. “30 for 30 is a little unique because it actually is an attractive VOD property that works very well on the platform.”

Also currently available on the service are full replays of the recent BCS Championship Game, classic boxing matches, and classic college basketball Final Four matchups. While replays of entire games and matches have long been featured on other ESPN outlets, notably ESPN Classic, Lasker remains cautious of their future as a VOD entity.

“In terms of entire games themselves, we don’t get the sense that live games work as well after the live-game window has passed,” says Lasker. “However, are there some games that resonate better than others? Relatively, yes. Does the BCS Championship Game, for example, resonate as much as an entertainment show or episodic show or 30 for 30 would? No. But it does resonate better than your general Virginia-Wake Forest college football game in the middle of the season.”

The future of full-game replays remains to be seen, but expect plenty of shoulder programming to line the walls of ESPN On Demand, especially in June and July, when ESPN begins its onslaught of coverage for the ultra-hyped 2010 World Cup.

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters