Tuesday, November 08, 2005

ESPN the Ring Tone: In the Zone on a Cellphone

After 26 years of pioneering sports broadcasting to the cable masses, the New York Times writes a feature about ESPN's efforts to expand it the brand into the mobile space through a new MVNO offering. The article writes that "ESPN has crammed everything it has learned about television into the guts of a black Sanyo cellphone with red keys and a 2.1-inch screen that dishes out scores, highlights, news, trivia and fantasy content with depth and zippy clarity. In time, it will deliver full games shrunk to one-fifteenth or one-twentieth their usual TV size."

Former ESPN "SportsCenter" anchor and current MSNBC host of the "Countdown" Keith Olbermann offers up a witty take on the next undertaking. He said, "What's next, implants?. They were once bound by cable. It was a cable success. Now, they're detaching from cable. Just jam it in your pocket, and you're ESPN."

ESPN is entering a maturing market with more than 194 million wireless phone users in the U.S. Linda Barrabee at the Yankee Group said, "For ESPN, it means trying to get people to leave another carrier, and the way to do it is with something differen. The market is primed for differentiation."

As mentioned elsewhere costs for Mobile ESPN handsets and services are high. Currently in four test markets, handsets are selling at Best Buy stores "for $399.99 after a $100 rebate; monthly service costs from $64.99 to $224.99." Handsets will be available at ESPN.com after Christmas and a full rollout at Best Buy will happen in the February 2006 timeframe.

Barrabee pointed out that "the creation of a new product for sports aficionados bodes well for ESPN, but that there are risks." She added, "It's one thing to look at mobile as an avenue to distribute content, but another to be a service provider. You're riding on another network. Your brand is on the line if the service doesn't live up to its promise."

As a sports junkie, I'll be watching Mobile ESPN's efforts closely. I can't see myself shelling out that kind of money when I can get a smart phone with additional capabilities at the same price. Plus, I mostly want access to scores and stuff and don't need the highlights. Then again live action would be nice at times. It'll be very interesting to see how far this segmentation thing goes and whether ESPN succeeds in carving out a market...