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ESPN Reveals Surprising Mobile Stats

Revealing new statistics from ESPN counter the commonly-held belief that TV Everywhere is more about receiving TV on every screen than it is about getting access to content outside the home.

According to ESPN vice president Damon Phillips, two thirds of smartphone viewing across ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app occurs while viewers are on the move outside the home. ESPN doesn't share information about how often its online video content is accessed over a mobile carrier connection versus a WiFi connection, but the outside-the-home usage suggests that sports fans may stream games over a mobile network more often than previously thought.

ESPN's Phillips spoke recently at the annual VideoSchmooze conference put on by VideoNuze and its industry-veteran founder Will Richmond. Light Reading then contacted Phillips directly to see what else ESPN has learned about the habits of its mobile users.

According to ESPN:

  • The largest growth for total minutes viewed on both WatchESPN and ESPN3 in the past year came from mobile devices.
  • Users viewed 101.9 million minutes of video on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app between November 2012 and October 2013.
  • The majority of tablet viewing takes place on WiFi networks, and ESPN believes that, unlike with smartphones, the bulk of it takes place inside the home.

ESPN also disclosed that sporting events that are popular on TV, such as Monday Night Football, also do well online. But ESPN additionally sees significant mobile streaming around sports such as cricket that are available only online.

The smartphone findings from ESPN have some interesting implications for both programmers and consumers. Sports content is very different from other television fare, but as networks are investing heavily in their own live streaming services, viewing habits across TV networks could start to look a little more like the picture ESPN is painting. (See Clearwire Board Endorses Sprint Acquisition.)

If that happens, it means programmers will consider the value of their streaming rights even more carefully, and both programmers and service providers alike will have to decide whether to try to monetize mobile video services more than they do today.

Interestingly, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) general manager Mike Angus shared his own opinion on the subject just last month. Angus noted that while programmers may not want to cede control of streaming rights outside the home, that option is probably still preferable to alienating paying customers who want anytime, anywhere access to their shows. (See TWC's Mike Angus Unplugged.)

The issue for consumers around mobile streaming is much simpler. As wireless carriers continue to phase out unlimited data plans, watching a few sporting events on a mobile network becomes a costly endeavor. According to Verizon's bandwidth calculator, just six hours of 4G video streaming will put a user over the standard 2-Gigabytes-per-month data cap.

ESPN, meanwhile, says its multiscreen content is currently available to 85 million homes with pay-TV subscriptions. Operator partners in the US include Time Warner, Bright House Networks, Verizon FiOS TV, Comcast Xfinity TV, Midcontinent Communications, Cablevision, Cox, Charter, AT&T U-verse, and Google Fiber.

The sports network continues to expand its presence and add new features to the WatchESPN app. ESPN recently launched the first tablet versions of its app for the UK, and it introduced an interactive, live toolbar feature for its mobile apps in August.

There is no word on whether ESPN plans to integrate WatchESPN with the popular new Chromecast streaming stick from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). However a spokesperson told Light Reading that she's not aware of anyone from ESPN participating in Google's planned hackathon for the device scheduled for this weekend. ESPN hosts its own hackathon, which will take place less than two weeks later on December 18 and 19.

— Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable

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