Deal doubles net's subscriber count to 20 million

ESPNU, the 24/7 network focusing on college sports, has doubled its subscriber count, to 20 million, by muscling Time Warner Cable to add the channel to all of its digital subscribers throughout the country.

The deal is the culmination of a massive contract signed by the Walt Disney Co., ESPN’s parent, in April, which committed TW Cable to carry just about all of Disney’s networks, ranging from ESPN and its various spinoffs to Disney Channel, ABC Family and Soap Net.

In exchange for TW’s extensive cable commitment, Disney agreed to let the cable op continue to carry the ABC-owned TV stations in all of the TW markets.

The significance of the deal for ESPNU is that TW will not toss the network onto a half-baked digital sports tier, which requires cable customers to pony up an extra monthly fee. Sports fans have balked at paying the added tariff; the small number of viewers have prompted many advertisers to stay away.

In return for its wide circulation on TW, ESPNU’s license fee drops to a modest monthly fee of 12¢ a subscriber, according to SNL/Kagan.

ESPNU plans to carry 550 live college events each year, including more than 70 exclusive football games and close to 200 men’s basketball games.

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