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Mobile ESPN Reboots Via Verizon Wireless

ESPN's mobile video and content service — aborted last year after failing to attract subscribers — will have a second act through an exclusive, multiyear deal with Verizon Wireless.

The new Mobile ESPN service will be available to subscribers of Verizon Wireless' V Cast service later this year. The carrier will exclusively offer the “immersive” application ESPN developed for its own now-defunct service to provide real-time news, scores and on-demand video clips. Video content will include highlights from SportsCenter, Cold Pizza and other shows.

Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Verizon Wireless will include Mobile ESPN as part of the basic V Cast package, which costs $15 per month or $3 for a one-day subscription.

ESPN also signed an agreement with MediaFLO USA, the Qualcomm subsidiary that operates a live TV service for mobile phones over a dedicated wireless spectrum. By the end of March, Verizon Wireless expects to launch a live TV service in an unspecified number of major markets on the MediaFLO USA platform, which also will carry channels from MTV Networks, NBC Universal, CBS and Fox.

ESPN director of communications Rebecca Gertsmark said the programmer will continue to provide content to other mobile partners. That includes Mobi TV, which runs the wireless TV services for Sprint Nextel and the telco's mobile joint venture with four cable operators.

The live ESPN Mobile TV channel provided through Media FLO USA will not be a simulcast of its cable networks. Instead, the channel will feature programming from ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or other networks, including some live games, depending on whether it has secured wireless TV distribution rights.

The Verizon Wireless and Media FLO deals breathe new life into ESPN's mobile activities. ESPN in February 2006 launched a nationwide mobile virtual-network operator service, using Sprint's network, requiring subscribers to purchase a separate wireless phone and subscription plan.

After about eight months, it decided to pull the plug on the offering, citing disappointing sign-up rates, and said the service would end Dec. 31. The company at the time said it would refocus on licensing the Mobile ESPN application to carriers.

Separately, Montreal-based mobile media services provider Vantrix last week tapped Manish Jha — previously in charge of ESPN's mobile TV and content services unit — as its new CEO.

Jha's ESPN position will not be filled, according to Gertsmark. She said mobile initiatives now will be managed by Salil Mehta, executive vice president of the ESPN Enterprises group.