Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

ESPN's iPhone App Shows Us What TV Everywhere Is Supposed to Look Like

Two years ago, the big cable networks and providers started talking about “TV Everywhere” — a plan that was supposed to let cable TV subscribers watch anything on TV, on whatever device they wanted, wherever they were.

The idea was that whatever/whenever access would be enough to keep cable TV subscribers paying their monthly bill instead of cutting the cord for Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV, etc. And while it sounded pretty good on paper, it’s been very slow going since.

But here’s what it’s supposed to look like: ESPN’s new “WatchESPN” app, which does just what you think it does. It lets you watch the sports network live, for free, on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, no matter where you are.

It seems to work pretty well, too. Here’s a screenshot of live TV I took from my iPad. Note that the app is technically an iPhone app (an iPad-optimized one is coming), but the image looks pretty nice even blown up at 2x:

Catches? Of course.

  • The biggest one is that Disney’s network has carriage deals so far only with Time Warner Cable, Brighthouse TV and Verizon FiOS. That covers 18 million homes, but that won’t make you any happier if you don’t live in one of them. It’s worth noting that Comcast, the country’s biggest cable provider, isn’t included here, even though it has previously set up broadband programming deals with ESPN.
  • There’s no app for Google’s Android platform, though ESPN says that’s coming.
  • ESPN says there are a “few circumstances” where it still doesn’t have the rights to transmit its on-air programming online. The biggest one you’ll care about is “Monday Night Football,” which the network can’t transmit to mobile phones because Verizon has paid big money for those rights. But ESPN says it can send the game to your iPad, regardless of where it is or what connection you’re using.

But given the nature of this stuff, that’s still a pretty short list.

And unlike the iPhone and iPad apps we’ve seen recently from Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cablevision, which either don’t work outside your house or do with limitations, this is one where you don’t have to scratch your head for a reason to use it. This is stuff you’ll want to use if you like sports but aren’t able to watch from your couch. Simple, useful.

Note for ad folks: The apps don’t carry any ads right now at all–when a commercial break comes on, viewers just get a temporary graphic. But ESPN ad boss Sean Bratches says by August, his company will have technology that will allow it to serve up different ads to different users at the same time. And when that’s available, he’ll start selling access to tablet and phone eyeballs in conjunction with TV ad buys.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work