ESPN: March Online Highs, Par 3 Contest Lows

Is this any surprise? ESPN announced Wednesday that it had a “record-setting month in March, with new highs for mobile web and app usage, as well as video content and alerts.” We will get into the numbers below but — after all ESPN is the World Wide Leader and in an era of digital, mobile explosion its online numbers should be like Apple’s quarters: Every time, more.

Here is the snippet from ESPN PR on the online explosion:

ESPN mobile web and apps served an average minute audience of 103,000 in March, with an average of 5.1 million daily unique visitors (an increase of 22 percent over March 2011) and 3.1 billion total minutes for the month. ESPN apps in March had 3.6 million average daily uniques (up 125 percent over March 2011) and 1.5 billion minutes (up from 595 million in March 2011).

ESPN Mobile delivered 45 million video starts in March, including 24.6 million from mobile web and 19 million from the ESPN ScoreCenter handset and table apps, both record highs for a single month. In addition, ESPN delivered 1.5 billion alerts in March, also a record high for any month.

Yet for all its online savvy, ESPN found itself the victim of Mother Nature Wednesday at the Masters, when rainstorms turned its highly hyped live coverage of the Par 3 Contest into a rainout discussion with Mike Tirico at the helm. Now I like Mike Tirico. But I’m not wasting bandwidth watching Mike talk to Andy North about who might win the Masters. Jack and Arnie and Gary trading barbs and small iron play? I was just getting hooked when the toondershowers took over. I was surprised that ESPN had no backup other than having the studio guys start talking. And when they did, I clicked off the online stream and… went back to work.

No golfers ready for live interviews? No Dan Jenkins with some lore? In my mind ESPN whiffed a bit on a prime opportunity to show its Masters chops. (I also have had trouble all day with ESPN’s video feeds not loading properly — anyone else notice this?) But we have seen this before — ESPN doesn’t always do so well when there isn’t a script to follow. Let’s hope the WWL is back on its industry leading form on Thursday. Because we all will be watching.

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