You have to fight your way around the paywalls to read it, but the Wall Street Journal had a story today about ESPN talking to wireless providers about paying part of the fees for people who watch sports via cellular connections. There’s nobody on record, but when the WSJ uses the familiar “according to people familiar with the matter” dodge you know that somebody wanted this story to get out.
For the carriers, this is a kind of a holy grail thing — if ESPN starts subsidizing watching sports via cellular, you can bet that AT&T and Verizon will step up their marketing machines to sell tablets and smartphones. I’m imagining a future where you pay something like $50 a month, which gets you live NFL games and a free iPad to boot. Think you’d sign up tomorrow?
Why would such an arrangement be valuable to ESPN? With more mobile users, the worldwide leader could jack up the fees it charges advertisers since it would have incredible amounts of granular user info, right down to where the user is watching. And I’d bet you wouldn’t be able to watch any other channel on that subsidized device. But then again — would you care?
Net neutrality worries aside, it will be interesting to see if this deal comes to fruition. With Verizon’s exclusive cell phone rights deal with the NFL coming up for renewal next year, it’s the right time for something new to happen. We’ll stay tuned.