ESPN exec: Mobile is glue for all we do
BRISTOL, CT - ESPN digital media executives stressed that mobile is a key component of the sports network's overall multichannel portfolio of products and services and will only grow in importance going forward.
Given that ESPN operates in every channel one can think of -- television, print, online, radio and mobile -- the executives praised SMS in particular for connecting all of the various media and making them interactive. ESPN claims that it has the most-trafficked sports mobile Web site, the most-downloaded sports application for iPhone and the No. 1 sports SMS alerts service, as well as a growing amount of mobile video coverage.
"Mobile is the glue for everything we do," said Oke Okaro, vice president of ESPN Mobile, Bristol, CT. "It's an activation channel, a way to bring people into the fold, let them test the mobile waters and then bring people into more comprehensive platforms such as the mobile Web, applications and live video on the mobile phones.
"It's important to drive awareness and adoption of our mobile products and services, and integration with our TV programming is a great way to accomplish that," he said. "The X Games had robust mobile messaging campaigns that enabled people attending the events to text information to screens and vote on outcome of events themselves, which saw really good engagement.
"Half a million messages were generated by fans engaging with us."
According to a Nielsen statistic cited by Mr. Okaro, there are 55 million users in the U.S. who actively use mobile data.
"That's a significant number, but it's still a small percentage of the overall population, so it's important to drive education in marketplace," Mr. Okaro said.
"College Game Day is second only to SportsCenter here at ESPN, and the on-air talent have a true/false skit they do, and in the past viewers could only vote via the PC Web, but this year the call-to-action is going to be text-message-based to give people more college football content via mobile," he said.
SportsNation is another ESPN property that is interactive in nature and uses mobile as a means of driving engagement by eliciting fans to text in their opinions on various sports topics.
ESPN issues on-air calls-to-action asking fans to text various keywords to the short code 2ESPN (23776).
"We want to serve all fans no matter how they want to engage with us, and SMS is a great way to get them to engage," Mr. Okaro said.
ESPN has several new mobile launches on the horizon.
The ESPN MVP application, previously only available via Verizon Wireless's V Cast service, will soon launch in BlackBerry App World on a subscription-based mobile. It provides live scores and statistics, video, fantasy sports information and local sports content based on user preferences.
"Smartphones drive 70 percent of our mobile Web traffic, with BlackBerry alone representing 40 percent, so it makes sense to bring this all-encompassing experience to BlackBerry devices," Mr. Okaro said. "It features contextual integration of sports data with video and alerts that bring you into the app so you can then consume the latest content.
"There are two mobile use cases: people looking to complete a specific task such as check a score, and people looking to kill time -- entertainment," he said. "We try to satisfy both."
An ESPN Radio application will soon launch for both BlackBerry and iPhone.
"It's radio in your pocket, an added opportunity to keep engaged with fans while they're out and about doing things but without having to stare at the screen," Mr. Okaru said.
The application features 15 live feeds from local ESPN affiliate stations nationwide and Spanish-language ESPN Deportes programming.
"Listeners can engage with the host of the show via SMS, download podcasts and listen to play-by-play of live games," Mr. Okaru said. "The format is interactive and we're constantly soliciting feedback from our followers.
"In the Hispanic audience, the iPhone in particular and smartphones in general over-index in that audience, so we included the Spanish-language features to cater to that demographic," he said.
ESPN recently launched the Fantasy Football Draft Kit application for iPhone, which is free and ad-supported.
In time for the start of the NFL season, the company will soon roll out the pay-per-download FantasyCast Football application for iPhone.
The application features live scoring for all ESPN.com fantasy teams, personalized alerts, injury reports, substitutions, scoring and editorial coverage.
Viewers of ESPN's TV channels should expect to see more advertising promoting ESPN's mobile products and services.
"We're starting to promote our mobile products and services with the integration with TV, and we run commercials talking specifically about mobile," Mr. Okaru said.
"We want to use all different channels -- TV, print, online and radio -- and mobile is the glue that sticks everything together and drives engagement," he said.
"We will continue to market around text messaging, using that as a call-to-action and an engagement tool, then drive them up-market based on what handset they have."