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Upfronts 2010: ESPN Expanding Fan Experience

Upfront Central: Complete Coverage from B&C
For evidence that ESPN is embracing social media and new technology,
attendees at the network's upfront event Tuesday (May 18) in New York
needed look no further than who was giving the pitch on new programming
and initiatives.  Straying from its SportsCenter theme, the
signature show that anchored ESPN's upfront pitch the last two years,
the sports cable giant gave the ball to Michelle Beadle and Colin
Cowherd, hosts of the social media-savvy SportsNation to anchor this year's pitch at the Nokia Theatre. 

The network touched on stalwart programs like Monday Night Football
and its critically-acclaimed 30 For 30 documentary series, but mostly
focused on new initiatives like the launch of ESPN 3D in conjunction
with the World Cup and a new signature show for college sports network

"Technology is clearly changing our business," said Ed Erhardt,
president of customer marketing and sales.  "Some see it as a potential
threat.  We see it as a chance to lead."

The 3D technology push
takes off next month when ESPN 3D, which has distribution agreements in
place with Comcast and DirecTV, features 25 matches from the 2010 FIFA
World Cup.  The first match to air on the network will be between host country South Africa and Mexico at 9:30 a.m. on June 11. 

The network also announced the launch of U:Nite, a nightly
show on ESPNU which will explore the crossroads of sports and pop
culture, with segments on gaming, technology and music.  Social media
will play an important role in the show, with students weighing in on
their teams.  The show is slated for launch in spring 2011.

ESPN is also making a play towards high school sports with ESPN
RISE, a brand targeting high school athletes.  The content will exist
as a stand-alone magazine, web site and online community.  The ESPN
High School Football Kickoff will showcase games from some of the
country's top high school teams and will be the network's first
football coverage of the year Aug. 27-29.

"We [will] speak to them in their voice," said ESPN Executive VP of
Content John Skipper.  "Our advertisers have a great opportunity to
connect their brand to this influential group," he said of elite high
school athletes. 

Monday Night Football analyst and Super Bowl-winning head
coach John Gruden was on hand to introduce the network's "Year of the
Quarterback" programming, in which the most celebrated position in
American sports will be analyzed throughout 2011 across all of the
network's platforms.  "Year of the Quarterback" is meant to give
viewers a deeper understanding of the position and will explore aspects
such as leadership, big contracts, recruitment and race.  NFL analysts
including Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, Ron Jaworski, Jerry Rice and Lou
Holtz will all contribute to the initiative.

ESPN Deportes announced the launch of Nacion ESPN, a
Spanish-language sports TV show fueled by fan interaction and modeled
after SportsNation.  The show will be hosted by ESPN Deportes
personalities Adriana Monsalve and David Faitelson.  It launches in the
first quarter of 2011.

In the mobile sphere, ESPN is preparing launches of apps for its
ESPN Local brand.  Dallas will be the first market to launch, with apps
for the four other local markets ESPN has rolled out (Boston, Chicago,
New York and Los Angeles) coming in the weeks ahead.  The company also
announced ESPN Passport, which allows fans to log their at-game
experiences with GPS positioning verification and upload photos of the

"We're focused on what's next," said Erhardt, closing the upfront.  "The future, for us, is about fan experience."