ESPN: Mobile ‘first screen’

Sports broadcaster ESPN, considered a pioneer in the mobile media space, now views mobile as the ‘first screen’, rather than the more commonly ascribed ‘third screen’.

In a keynote address at MediaPost’s Mobile Insider Summit in Key Largo, Michael Bayle, VP and general manager of ESPN Mobile, explained that instead of determining how to shoehorn its programming from traditional media to mobile platforms, the process is now reversed, with mobile becoming the starting point.

“What’s taking preference now is to try to get as ubiquitous as possible. Programme and design from the mobile standpoint first, then extrapolate what could be applied for the PC, television and print experience,” he advised.

According to Bayle, ESPN’s mobile audience across its mobile properties has surpassed 20 million, with users spending 45 per cent more time with ESPN mobile content in 2011 than the prior year. ESPN Mobile now ranks as the company’s fourth-largest network and it has 150,000 people accessing its mobile offerings at any given time.

“Particularly from an international standpoint, [mobile] is the primary way we reach an audience,” said Bayle, adding that ESPN Mobile has grown into a full-service content and commerce provider.

Although Bayle has reduced ESPN’s focus to a handful of apps from the scores of titles released in recent years, he noted that apps overall still account for the vast majority of the company’s mobile usage, suggesting that the advent of HTML5 programming should swing the balance back in favour of the mobile Web in the coming years.

ESPN’s mobile strategy is seen in terms of ‘bridges’, connecting users to its broader digital offerings, TV and mobile commerce, with the goal in terms of TV being to capitalise on two-screen viewing and the gradual shift toward interactive television. ESPN also wants to leverage mobile to encourage television viewing through news updates and alerts about live events that might prompt people to reach for the remote.

ESPN also takes an integrated approach on the ad side. Sponsorships are typically sold across digital, print, television, mobile. For an advertiser that can’t afford a TV buy, Bayle advised, mobile may be a way to reach ESPN’s predominantly male audience at lower cost.

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