@ Media Week: Bodenheimer: ESPN’s Multi-Platform Strategy Is Paying Off In Sales and Deals

ESPN’s push to sell itself to advertisers as a multi-platform company is paying off, George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, told the UBS lunch crowd. Fifty percent of the deals for $2 million or more — some 150 deals — were for TV plus one other platform; after the lunch, he said online was the number-one non-TV platform. Bodenheimer said ESPN Mobile Publishing even took in $1.2 million in upfront. At the same time, ESPN, which has long been aggressive about including multiple platforms in its rights deals, has become even more so. “We’re not just in the TV business any more. We’re no longer walking in as a cable network. We’re going in as a sports multimedia company,” he stressed. One example was the recent MLB deal, which Bodenheimer called “the most wide-ranging set of rights from any sports league.”
The overarching message: “Any pipe, any device.” To that end, when ESPN looks at deals now, it’s looking for ways beyond live game video and radio coverage to feed all the platforms: real-time data, library footage, studio shows, games, fantasy games, etc.
— Broadband network ESPN 360 is available through 11 ISPs now. Referring to the recent deal with Verizon that includes a separate fee for broadband, he said, “I do believe we’re the only major media company able to distribute its broadband product and obtain fees.”

— Bodenheimer brandished his own Mobile ESPN “palm-size sports communication device” as it was dubbed in the promo video he showed: “I can tell you that the phone actually works so we’re off to a good start.” He’s been using it for about three weeks. For ESPN, the slick, $399-after-rebate handset, which will be joined at some point by less pricey options, and the Mobile ESPN service fulfill the Disney division’s mission to have a “fully branded ESPN service at every touch point.” Fully integrated marketing with ESPN.com began today working toward the official Super Bowl launch.

— Re FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s suggestion that a la carte is an option, Bodenheimer said he doesn’t “see too much momentum behind the move to an al carte distribution.”

— Bodenheimer said ESPN is looking at mobile video downloads via the iPod or other services but nothing is in the works. When I asked him if he thought Disney had set some kind of precedent by pricing “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” at $1.99 a download, he said they haven’t even gotten that far. For now, they’re looking at what kind of content might work as mobile VOD. One gauge is what’s already successful on VOD — bloopers and boxing, for instance — but he said they’re aware that not everything that works on TV VOD will translate to mobile. Some people jumped on his initial comments during lunch as a sign that a deal is imminent; sounds like that’s far from the case.

() The full archived webcast of the presentation is here

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