ESPN Sidesteps the Middlemen

In an effort to gain greater control of its pay-per-view events, ESPN is establishing a direct distribution relationship with affiliates, instead of licensing its programming to PPV distributors In Demand and TVN Entertainment Inc.

ESPN vice president of broadband and interactive sales Matt Murphy said that under the new distribution structure, the programmer will negotiate individual carriage deals for each of its events with operators, rather with than the traditional PPV purveyors. Between them, those distributors have sports and film distribution deals with most MSOs.

Included are ESPN’s “GamePlan” college football, “ESPN Full Court” college basketball and “College Grand Slam” baseball subscription packages.

Other ESPN PPV events on the docket: an August fantasy football preview and K-1 mixed martial arts events. Programming from the ESPN Original Entertainment division and archival materials are also being considered for distribution.

Murphy said the move will allow ESPN greater flexibility in offering events to the marketplace without having to deal with the potential licensing and scheduling conflicts.

“We wanted to have the ability to control our own destiny and expand our business by doing more events,” he said. In the past, Murphy said, the network has had difficulty getting some of its event programming distributed through In Demand. He pointed to last year’s ESPN College Grand Slam, which the network distributed on its own after failing to reach a carriage deal with the PPV programmer.

Representatives from In Demand and TVN declined comment on the matter.

Murphy hopes the move will also attract other PPV event programmers to use ESPN as a conduit to offering events to operators.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.