Cable sports network ESPN said on Sunday that it plans to offer programming aimed at high-speed Internet users at a time when tensions are rising among cable operators over how much free programming, networks are offering over the Internet.
Last week, Walt Disney Co.-owned ESPN, decided to pull its ESPNews channel from Charter Communications Inc.'s cable systems after Charter sought to limit the amount of programming the network could make available over the Internet. ESPN's move, effective June 30, will affect 1.3 million subscribers. Cable operators fear that networks could offer free Internet features for which operators pay millions of dollars in affiliate fees.
ESPN said, its planned high-speed Internet service, tentatively dubbed "ESPN Broadband," creates more opportunities for cable operators by allowing them to offer enhanced high-speed Internet services, a growing business for them. The sports channel is considering offering highlights and some breaking news over the Internet.
It is also considering of offering the programming directly through the operators' own infrastructure. So a subscriber to a cable operator's Internet service would have access to the programming branded with both its name and ESPN. Most of the programming would be recycled from its cable broadcasts, although it may include some new features.
Speaking at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's Cable 2001 conference, ESPN president George Bodenheimer said that, users who try to access the programming without a cable modem would be flashed a message that says, "best experienced with a cable modem." The channel is also planning to allow users to order cable modems from their local cable affiliates through ESPN.com.