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ESPN begins poiting sports fans to regional networks

The inaugural integration will see the New England Sports Network listed among live sports programming within the ESPN app.

The inaugural integration will see the New England Sports Network listed among live sports programming within the ESPN app.

A sound technician with ESPN helps produce a telecast of a football game. (Photo by Maize & Blue Nation via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)
A sound technician with ESPN helps produce a telecast of a football game. (Photo by Maize & Blue Nation via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

ESPN wants to become the one-stop destination for all things live sports, and that means bringing some regional sports networks into the mix.

Starting this week, the flagship ESPN mobile and television apps will point Boston-area sports fans to their regional sports network, New England Sports Network (NESN), as part of a unique integration between the two sports brands.

A dedicated link within the ESPN apps will show Boston sports fans all live programming airing on NESN at a given time. The link will allow fans to tune in to NESN games and related programming if they have the channel as part of a cable, satellite or streaming cable TV alternative service.

“This is about improving discoverability of people’s favorite teams and who’s carrying their games,” Tim Bayus, the Vice President of Strategy at ESPN, said in an interview with an entertainment trade publication.

Bayus said the integration was about reducing friction across sports streaming services, allowing fans of their favorite teams to access the live events they want to watch, even if they’re not directly served by ESPN.

To that end, ESPN is becoming a centralized sports hub that includes many of its own live sports programming through its flagship cable network and streaming service, ESPN Plus, and a directory that includes links to other sports channels that offer sports not carried on ESPN.

“What we’re trying to do is solve those consumer pain points,” Bayus affirmed. “This is a first step in trying to figure that out. We know it’s a meaty one to tackle.”

ESPN is also participating in a streaming-focused joint venture with Fox Corporation and Warner Bros Discovery that will see certain linear broadcast and cable networks with sports programming integrated into a new over-the-top service.

The service, which has yet to be named, is expected to debut later this year with a starting price of around $40 to $50 per month. It is aimed at so-called “cord-nevers” who have not previously paid for a traditional pay TV service to watch live sports programming, as opposed to competing directly with cable, satellite and streaming cable-like partners.

Earlier this month, the joint venture announced the hiring of former Apple media executive Pete Distad to serve as its chief executive officer. Distad will be based in Los Angeles, where the streaming joint venture is expected to be headquartered.

ESPN continues to pursue its own over-the-top service that will bring its ESPN portfolio of linear channels through a direct-to-consumer streaming product slated to launch in 2025.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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