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ESPN to Stream World Cup

The worldwide leader in sports believes its coverage of the planet's largest sporting event will provide a carriage assist for its broadband service.

All 52 matches of the 2006 FIFA World Cup matches ESPN and ESPN2 will televise from Germany, scheduled from June 9 through July 9, will appear on its broadband ESPN360 portal. Broadband subscribers will view the same feed as television audiences, including sponsor messages and commercials. (The remaining 12 matches airing on broadcast cousin ABC aren't part of the package.)

“It's another way to serve the sports fan,” said ESPN senior vice president of new media John Kosner.

While cable counts 24 million broadband subscribers, ESPN360 is in only 8 million homes, through connections delivered by Adelphia Communications Corp., Bend Broadband, Charter Communications Inc., Grande Communications, Mid-Hudson Cablevision, Susquehanna Communications and Verizon Communications Inc., among others.

Its 360 roster, however, doesn't count Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications Inc. or Cablevision Systems Corp.

ESPN hopes to change that with World Cup soccer, Kosner said. “We want to create awareness and demand. This is a great product; this is going to be exciting.

Kosner said the matches will have appeal to soccer fans at work that might not have access to the TV feeds. Most of the games will be in early morning and midday time slots in the U.S., given our nation's six- to nine-hour time differential with Germany.

ESPN360 broadband users will be able to directly link with Web site ESPN.com and its SoccerNet section (soccernet.espn.go.com), where additional information and statistics will be available.

“We'll do interactive things to enhance the live coverage,” Kosner said. ESPN360 will also likely carry longer versions of pre- and post-game press conferences than what would be available on television.

ESPN plans to re-encode the live television feeds at its Bristol, Conn., production headquarters, using Windows Media 9 at a bit rate of 400 Kilobits per second. The company uses Akamai to send the live streams to broadband users.

ESPN, which obtained rights for the 2006 World Cup from Philip Anschutz's Soccer United Marketing — Major League Soccer's marketing unit — in exchange for the Disney networks carrying MLS matches. SUM spent about $40 million for those World Cup rights.