The catch is that access is limited to consumers who subscribe to Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) FiOS TV and cable TV services from Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Bright House Networks , though other ESPN affiliates are expected to join the mix soon.
As it did with the launch of ESPN3 and followed with the PC-based, authenticated feeds of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN Buzzer Beater/Goal Line, the sports net is foregoing a stand-alone streaming service in favor of a model that only allows access to the app to consumers who subscribe to service provider affiliates that have paid for the privilege. ESPN hasn't disclosed specific numbers on what they are paying or how much revenue is being generated.
Consumers who download the WatchESPN app will be required to authenticate themselves by entering their pay-TV service credentials
ESPN said it intends to launch similar apps for other smartphones and tablets "in the near future."
Why this matters
While service providers and programmers kicked off TV Everywhere efforts with on-demand content, getting access and rights to live, linear channels has been a stickier proposition. In some cases, MSOs are getting permission up front, while acting first and asking forgiveness later in other instances.
TW Cable, which launched a live TV app for the iPad earlier this month, is already facing cease-and-desist letters from some major programmers (but not ESPN). Meanwhile, YES Network is challenging whether Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC)'s just-launched iPad app, which provides more than 280 live TV channels, has authorization to deliver its linear channel to the Apple tablet.
For ESPN, timing is everything, as the app is being launched in time for ESPN's coverage of the early rounds of the Masters, the upcoming NBA playoffs, and the start of the Major League Baseball season.
For more about cable's recent foray into the TV apps world and some of the scuttlebutt that has ensued, please check out these stories:
- Cablevision iPad App Hits 50K Downloads
- Comcast Keeps Eye on the iPad Prize
- Cablevision Launches iPad App With 280+ Channels
- TW Cable's iPad TV App Changes Channels
- Fox to TW Cable: Stop Streaming Our Stuff
- TW Cable's iPad App Enters Programmer Gun Sights
- High Demand Crashes TWC's iPad App
- TWC's iPad App Launches With (Some) Live TV
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable