ESPN will serve up 3,500 live sporting events annually -- the content it provides through ESPN3.com -- and additional video and features to Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming console, available to subscribers of Xbox Live Gold for no additional charge starting in November.
But in order to get the ESPN content, Xbox users must be customers of a broadband service provider that offers ESPN3.com.
The service, called ESPN360 before its name was changed in April, is currently available through Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Cox Communications and Charter Communications, among other providers. Service providers pay ESPN a per-subscriber fee for the rights to offer access to ESPN3.com to their customers.
"This was a deal in which we were mindful of our existing relationships," said Matt Murphy, senior vice president of digital video distribution for Disney and ESPN Media Networks. "We got creative about how to respect the underlying business... We think we can increase the engagement and consumption of our fans."
The ESPN3.com lineup includes college basketball, college football and bowl games, as well as select events from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, international soccer, tennis including all four Grand Slam tournaments and golf majors.
In addition to ESPN3.com's live events, the deal will bring ESPN.com's video-on-demand clips and sports highlights and other interactive features to the Xbox 360 console for viewing on a TV set. Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold service is $7.99 per month or $49.99 per year.
The deal between ESPN and Microsoft is exclusive for the gaming console category, meaning Xbox's two chief rivals -- Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii -- will be unable to offer the content, at least for a period of time. Microsoft has sold about 40 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide. ESPN and Microsoft did not disclose the term of their deal or other details.
Separately, Microsoft announced Kinetic, the "controller-free" gaming device previously code-named Project Natal. The Kinect sensor, which plugs directly into the Xbox 360, contains a camera, audio sensors and motion-sensing technology that tracks 48 points of movement on the human body and also can recognize faces and voices.
ESPN's content will be integrated with Kinetic, according to the companies' executives, to let fans to control the content they watch using voice commands or by waving their hands. ESPN on Xbox 360 also will provide social-networking features including "team affiliation," to let users declare their favorite teams and see how many other people in the Xbox Live community are also fans; and to play in-game social activities like polls and trivia questions.
Microsoft made the announcements Monday at the Electronic Entertainment Expo Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.
ESPN3.com is available in more than 50 million households nationwide, roughly two-thirds of U.S. broadband homes. Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems are notable holdouts that have not reached deals with ESPN to offer the service to their broadband customers. ESPN also makes ESPN3.com available at no cost to approximately 21 million U.S. college students and U.S.-based military personnel via on-campus educational networks and on-base military networks.
MLB Advanced Media manages the live streaming video for ESPN3.com, which is based on Adobe Systems' Flash Media Server.
ESPN had a previous agreement with Microsoft to sell game replays and programming to Xbox 360 users, announced in 2007.
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