Mipcom’s Mobile TV day kicked off Wednesday with a jock-ish keynote from George Bodenheimer, ESPN and ABC Sports’ prexy and co-chair of Disney Media Networks.
“A key component to our success is our culture of connecting with fans, and having fun,” Bodenheimer said as he recapped the history of the world’s first 24-hour sports channel. “Along the way, fun became part of the personality of our brand. We like to say that we take our sports seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. ”
Giving a broad outline of the group’s strategy on digital entertainment and emerging online and wireless platforms, he said: “Our mission has evolved from the early days of serving fans through one television network to serving them wherever they consume sports and on whatever device. Times change and technology evolves, but the fan will always remain at the center of our mission.”
ESPN’s first foray into the online business was in 1994, when it launched ESPN.com. That was followed by the acquisition of U.K.-based Soccernet in 1999; it will be available in French, German, Italian and Spanish by the end of this year. ESPN now has 11 Web sites.
“Today, these Internet sites have become the ultimate connection to the fan as a tool that interacts with them,” Bodenheimer said. “Businesswise, they complement all of our media.”
At a post-speech Q&A, Bodenheimer defended the network’s rapid pullout of a mobile phone initiative earlier this year when ESPN got in and out of the mobile phone retail business within seven months.
“The sales of the handset were slower than expected,” he said. “Due to the cutting-edge application, other carriers were interested in our product. So we decided to change our strategy, converting from a (mobile virtual network operator) into expanding our existing licensing model. ”
By the end of 2006, Mobile ESPN will be distributing product on five continents and 30-plus carriers, in addition to its activities in the U.S. The mobile service distributes news and data covering various activities, including premiership football, the NBA and the X Games.