CTIA Audio Interview: John Zehr, SVP-Digital Media Production, ESPN

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I caught up for a few minutes at CTIA with John Zehr, the ESPN SVP of digital media production. We talked about ESPN’s multi-year exclusive commitment to Verizon (NYSE: VZ) for the user interface that survived its ill-fated MVNO; its WAP efforts; the use of ESPN personalities across platform; and more. The 12-minute audio can be streamed or downloaded. Among his comments:

WAP: Zehr says ESPN is shifting its approach to its WAP site, which until now hasn’t adapted to higher-end phones with capabilities beyond the lowest common denominator: “Now we’re focusing a little bit more on the highest common demoniator for a certain set of device classes. We’ll be looking highly capable phones — the smartphones, the iPhone, the Blackberry, with browsers that take full advantage of the capabilities available in the browser.” They still aren’t doing much with detection but “we’ll start taking advantage.”

Browser experience: Zehr: “We will do detection on both the device capabilities and also the connection speed and start to program the content based on that and really serve up what makes sense. With the iPhone, as an example, when you’re on WiFi it’s a completely different experience then when you’re on AT&T’s (NYSE: T) GPRS.”

Mobile video: Zehr expects in the next few months the novelty experience of mobile video will evolve to day-to-day use of live event programming, especially as ESPN ups the number of live events, including NBA and college football.

Rick Reilly: The SI vet moves to ESPN this summer and Zehr firmly believes he will be followed more in digital than on print after the change.

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Olaf Dunn

Its about time companies that have worthwhile content to offer approach the mobile industry with aggression as outlined here. Targeted content will always give the user a much more appealing user experience, and offer the brand name further channels to explore, not only for content sales, but also subscriptions services and advertising revenues through *free* content sponsorship.
The classic problem still exists however, where the user will be unable to make use of these services unless their device is configured correctly.
The detection of bearer (WiFi, GPRS, HDSPA, etc) will provide the user with more choice, but this may eventually need to take a step further to detect if the user is roaming abroad, and hence data charges will be higher, and possibly slower networks than in the home country.

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