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Sean Bratches: ESPN’s Digital Game-Changer

Sean Bratches, who is in charge of pumping old-school distribution and advertising revenue into ESPN, says he’s always been a bit of a closet techie.

“I think it’s really a critical aptitude to have in the marketplace in which we’re living,” says Bratches, who is helping to push the Worldwide Leader in Sports to be the leader in the digital space as well.

Bratches spends time with Chuck Pagano, ESPN chief technology officer, and looks for ways to challenge what ESPN’s plant can pump out. “In reality, everything is digital media today,” Bratches says. “It’s extraordinary how the proliferation of a digital infrastructure has facilitated our ability to serve the sports fan in more and better ways. It’s driven our business.”

ESPN’s mission is to serve fans, and Bratches says technology helps the company do that better. Take Watch ESPN, the app that makes ESPN, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPN Goal Line and Buzzer Beater available on computers, smartphones and tablets. ESPN Deportes will be added by the end of the year, and ESPNews will follow. Amid all the industry talk about authentication, Bratches says, “we’re the first company to do deals for our linear networks.”

Bratches says Watch ESPN benefits all of the company’s constituents, adding value to sports rights, creating a stronger value proposition for distributors and giving advertisers a new way to reach consumers. “And obviously there’s a benefit to the fan,” he adds. About 3 million people have downloaded the Watch ESPN app.

ESPN3, the company’s pioneering streaming channel, is now in 70 million homes. “We’re very pleased with its performance and the business model, which is affiliate and advertising-supported,” Bratches says. “We continue to aggregate unique content for that platform and it’s core to our future.”

What’s in the future? “We’re trying to get our hands around Watch ESPN and continue to grow that,” Bratches says. “We’re managing and simplifying the authentication process. We’re encouraged to see other brands following suit, which we think will be a further catalyst to grow and develop consumption behaviors that go beyond what we’ve seen.”

Beyond that, “We’re constantly looking for what’s next. We were in the vanguard of HD, 3D, we’re in the vanguard of authenticated live networks. It’s really a core component of the company. And it’s the expectation of our fans that we are there.”

And Bratches will be there. “I carry an iPhone, I carry an iPad. I’ve got Macs and PCs wherever I go. And televisions,” he says. “I’m close to having to wear a radiation suit around my house because I have so many devices, the stuff is flying around the air.”

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.