With an update to its app, ESPN makes streaming live sports much easier.
The sports network empire is integrating WatchESPN — its live streaming product supported by cable and satellite providers — into its main app, starting Thursday. The idea is that users can read about a game in progress and then start watching it with a single click.
Senior VP of Product Management Ryan Spoon said the integration “puts live streaming in front of a triple audience” as the main ESPN app is far more popular than the separate WatchESPN app.
Ultimately, it could also make it easier for ESPN to sell its networks directly to consumers, bypassing cable and satellite companies. But for now this is not the strategy.
The live streaming service is already setting a new record virtually every week. Once users enter their username and password, they can live stream nine of ESPN’s networks, plus special networks like Goal Line (the college football equivalent of RedZone).
“People are getting familiar” with streaming, ESPN head of distribution Justin Connolly said in a phone interview.
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He can see this happening week after week as more users live stream college football games, NBA games, the US Open and other sporting events.
Conventional wisdom says that live sports are best seen on the biggest screen possible. While that remains true to a large extent, the streaming side is growing rapidly. What stands out is the regularity of the behavior. While the network doesn’t share specific data, it says September was WatchESPN’s most-watched non-World Cup month. October was #2.
“We see it becoming a regular thing week in and week out,” Connolly said, especially when it comes to college football on Saturdays.
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He said ESPN was also impressed with the “large additive audiences” of “Monday Night Football”.
While games “still attract a very large TV audience”, viewers who may not have been able to watch before – because they weren’t near a TV with a cable connection – are watching from increasingly through phones and tablets.
The WatchESPN app is available on streaming boxes like Apple TV, which also contributes to the increase in viewership.
For ESPN, the 10 most-streamed regular-season college football games have all taken place this season.
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The same goes for the top 10 most-streamed “Monday Night Football” matches.
While ESPN faces many challenges – a shrinking cable and satellite subscriber base – it is no doubt in the process of making its product more appealing and accessible to its target audience.
Authentication, i.e. the process of logging in with a username and password, remains a headache for users and networks. ESPN executives say they are making progress.
“Making it easier, making it smoother, that’s something we’re focused on,” Connolly said. “The fewer barriers there are to someone getting the content, the more usage we’ll see, beyond what we’ve seen so far.”
Spoon said integrating live streaming into the flagship network app is about having a more “singular” app experience.
“Over the past few months we’ve introduced enhanced audio capabilities with live radio streaming and podcasts and this week WatchESPN. And like the rest of the app: that’s the first step,” he said. he declares.
CNN Money (New York) First published December 3, 2015: 1:17 p.m. ET