ESPN3.com debuts Sunday night with the Yankees-Red Sox season opener and lots of enhancements but whatever the name it’s still available in the U.S. primarily to the 50 million or so subscribers whose ISPs have a licensing deal with ESPN (NYSE: DIS). That’s because unlike 99.9 percent of broadband sites, the broadband network formerly known ESPN360.com works like a cable channel. (The exceptions are students and military, who usually don’t get access privileges for cable nets but can log in to ESPN3.) The name change is meant to highlight that status, giving it a moniker that fits in with ESPN and ESPN 2 but, no, ESPN News isn’t changing to ESPN4.
ESPN3 mixes programming found on the various ESPN cable nets along with games and events that can only be seen via the broadband net. For instance, ESPN2 may show one Australian Open match while others being played concurrently are on broadband. Unlike the other networks, which are one-to-many, ESPN3 starts with a menu from ESPN after that is programmed by the user. New features coming with the rebranding should enhance that: picture-in-picture, split screens and later in April, DVR controls and a feature that lets fans jump to key plays. The new look also emphasizes social — really an expected feature now for sports — with chat and Twitter/Facebook status updates.
Improved video: Users won’t have to download a separate player any more; games will stream live without it courtesy of a change to Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) Flash Player 10 from Move and delivery by Major League Baseball Advanced Media. ESPN’s John Kosner explained the switch in a recent interview: “The advantage to us, we think, of working with baseball is they do an outstanding job dealing with the same issues for their own product so we don