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ESPN Hosts Happy Holiday Hackathon

Mari Silbey
12/24/2013
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Mark it down. Hackathons are trending.

Just 10 days after Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) hosted a coding fest for its Chromecast streaming stick, ESPN ran its own 48-hour hackathon to see what digital media goodies its developers could create for sports fans this year. Unlike Google's event, the fourth annual ESPN hackathon was entirely an internal affair. It is keeping the results under wraps for now, but it did share a few details of the developer challenge with us.

The ESPN hackathon gives developers exactly two days to build a working model of a sports-related application. Kevin Ota, ESPN's director of communications, told us it has certain underlying priorities -- like supporting coverage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup -- but participants are allowed to work on whatever projects interest them. This year, more than one team experimented with biometrics and tying users' quantified activity (using a fitness tracker like Fitbit) with an ESPN app.

"It just keeps getting better and better," said Ota. "It gets better in terms of the organization of it, the creativity, the level of development… We keep adding to the team. We have more talent, dev talent every year, and in this event, it really does show itself."

ESPN has committed to turning the winning application from its annual hackathon into a commercial product. The SportsCenter Feed app introduced last year was the winning entry in the company's first-ever hackathon. Ota said this year's winning team may have its application targeted for an event-specific launch next summer. (The World Cup, perhaps?) ESPN will determine the official product roadmap sometime in the new year.

Thanks to innovation on the web, software development has become a major priority for programmers like ESPN and TV service providers. Software is now driving new user interfaces, interactive applications, and multiscreen video experiences. It won't be long before we find out what 2014 has in store.

Until then, it's happy hacking. And happy holidays.

Related post:

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading Cable

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albreznick
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albreznick,
User Rank: Blogger
12/30/2013 | 5:56:49 PM
Re: Rise of the hackathon
That would definitely make for an interesting piece. Sounds like you've got yourself a good followup story there, Mari. 
msilbey
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msilbey,
User Rank: Blogger
12/29/2013 | 8:37:03 PM
Re: Rise of the hackathon
The thing about the ESPN hackathon, however, is that it's not a big public event. And we won't know who the winners were until there's a product roadmap established. I'd love to talk to the teams who participated then and see what they thought of the process. 
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
12/27/2013 | 9:48:08 PM
Re: Rise of the hackathon
Now that is worth hacking for! Be sure to go and take pics!
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
12/27/2013 | 5:35:56 PM
Re: Rise of the hackathon
Developers at the AT&T Summit in January, which includes a hackathon, get Macklemore and Ryan Lewis as their after-conference entertainment.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
12/27/2013 | 5:17:12 PM
Re: Rise of the hackathon
Free giveaways and big cash prizes?
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
12/27/2013 | 5:02:36 PM
Re: Rise of the hackathon
The carrier ones I've seen this year have been packed.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
12/27/2013 | 12:00:44 PM
Re: Rise of the hackathon
I did hear some backlash about carrier hackathons, essentially implying they were staged for publicity and nothing came of the winners... I won't name names though! I think they can be great for the creative process and a good way to get discovered. What your end goal is may demtermine how interested you are in participating though.
DOShea
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DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
12/27/2013 | 11:53:48 AM
Re: Rise of the hackathon
I also would be interested to know if in developer circles this increasingly frequent corporatizing of hackathons is viewed somewhat negatively. Maybe there is a whole backlash of it that I'm not aware of--perhaps it gets certain groups and individuals working on ideas that really need more time in the oven before being exposed to the larger companies that might further develop or acquire them.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
12/27/2013 | 9:26:36 AM
Re: Rise of the hackathon
I think it is/will be, but it'll be important to keep tabs on what becomes of the hackathon winners months or years after. They don't always amount to much, or those that do get acquired. That's the nature of the market and the ability to innovate and fail quickly, but it would be good to get a measure on how successful and helpful hackathons are.
DOShea
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DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
12/26/2013 | 10:39:08 AM
Rise of the hackathon
Activities by ESPN and others make Intel's recent acquisition of Hacker League look pretty timely. Maybe this will become the increasingly common way of brain-storming and initiating development of new services.
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