Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Multitask Nation: ESPN Lets iPad Users Call Up Scores, Clips, While They Watch Live Video

ESPN’s WatchESPN is a very good app that lets you stream the sports channel’s live broadcasts to your phone, tablet or TV.*

But what if you’re not content watching a single game at a time? Now iPad owners can mainline even more sports video on the same screen, via new multitasking features included in an app update.

The key here is something ESPN is calling a “live toolbar.” It’s a widget that runs across the bottom of the video screen and lets you pull up data like scores and stats for other games you’re not watching. And, if your attention span can handle it, you can also use it to pull up on-demand video clips, like highlight reels, that you can watch side by side with a live feed.

Here, for instance, is a shot of a live SportsCenter feed on the left, alongside an on-demand clip:

WatchESPN iOS split screen

Right now, the toolbar is only available for newer iPads and the iPad mini. Damon Phillips, the ESPN exec who oversees the company’s apps and digital video projects, said the feature will be rolled out to some Android devices down the line, and will likely make it to connected-TV boxes like Apple TV, Xbox gaming consoles, etc. Phones are less likely, given the screen-size constraints, he said.

Normally I avoid writing about app updates. But this one, which combines traditional “lean back” viewing with a hands-on interactive mode, letting people do something they actually want to do, seems worth noting.

A couple other thoughts:

  • If the toolbar does take off, then it’s possible that usage for ScoreCenter, ESPN’s other key app, will drop off.  If you can call up scores on the same screen you’re already using to watch sports, then there’s less need for a second-screen app, right? Right, Phillips sort of said: “We think we’ve brought the second screen into the experience.”
  • The toolbar could also be a moneymaker for ESPN, since it creates more inventory. In the nearish future, Phillips said, the company will start adding ads onto its video-on-demand clips. And, down the line, it could integrate sponsorships onto the toolbar itself.

* If you pay, that is. The app is free, but you can only watch live video if you’re subscribing to pay TV via one of ESPN’s partners, like Comcast.

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