At its upfront presentation, sports network ESPN emphasized its considerably growing reach more so than its programming punch.
Network execs announced that ESPNU, the company's college network, will launch on Comcast's Digital Classic tier in a majority of its cable systems by the upcoming college football season. Comcast.net will also make ESPN360.com available for free. The additions plug two major holes in the comprehensive carriage agreement Comcast and Disney signed in November 2006.
Further, ESPN Media Networks will add the college service to DirecTV's Choice programming package, beginning July 1. DirecTV will launch ESPNU HD by the end of the first quarter 2010.
With the moves, ESPNU will increase its sub base by some 21 million to around 46 million homes. John Skipper, ESPN's executive VP of content, said that figure could approach 50 million by fall via other rollouts.
On the programming side, ESPN highlighted its 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage from South Africa; in addition to covering all games in HD on TV, ESPN360.com will feature the matches in multiple languages.
ESPN has also reached an expanded digital rights agreement with the All England Club that will essentially double ESPN360.com's live broadband coverage from Wimbledon to 650 hours.