ESPN Upgrades Broadband Network

ESPN360.com gets new video player, social networking features
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Sports giant ESPN is launching a revamped version of its broadband network, ESPN360.com, with an improved video player, live statistics and social networking features that let fans chat during live games.

ESPN360.com, which is provided free to broadband subscribers of certain telco and cable affiliates like Verizon, AT&T, Insight Communications, Mediacom and RCN, has already been providing high-quality video coverage of live games with a choice of aspect ratios and window sizes. Like corporate cousin ABC.com, ESPN360.com uses Move Networks’ adaptive streaming technology, which dynamically adjusts the encoding rate of streaming video based on a subscriber’s available bandwidth.

“What we are trying to achieve is TV-quality video delivered on the Internet,” says Damon Phillips, VP of ESPN360.com. “We take real pride to make sure viewers have the best viewing experience possible.”

The delivered bit-rates start at 768 kilobits per second for standard-def video and 2.5 megabits per second for hi-def streaming, but are constantly adjusted based on network traffic. The new ESPN360.com player, which is officially being launched as a beta “2.0” version today, will maintain those standards while also delivering true full-screen capability for the first time. The new player will have improved fast-forward and rewind controls, including x2, x4, and x8 speeds, and will also offer enhanced “Compact” and “Large” modes that feature collapsible Schedule, Game Info and Scoreboard panels.

There is an enhanced multi-screen “mosaic” mode with five widescreen-capable video screens (a main video window and four thumbnails). Phillips says the current mosaic mode is already popular among college football fans on busy Saturdays. The new ESPN360.com will also include a social networking feature called “ESPN Conversations” that will allow users chat with fans in other parts of the country watching the same game, with more interactive features planned for the future.

Statistics are obviously a huge part of what ESPN does on both its cable networks and Web content, and the new ESPN360.com player will include real-time statistics and scoreboards of other games. For select events such as college football, ESPN360.com will integrate ESPN Gamecast stats that are synchronized to the live video and updated as one watches the game.

ESPN has updated the home page for ESPN360.com with better navigation, added advertising inventory and cleaner placement positions within the service, and will now allow remote access for fans who receive ESPN360.com via their home Internet service. ESPN360.com will also now organize sports into different channels, such as a basketball channel, soccer channel, etc, with schedules and information on current and coming events.

“That’s a great way to cross-promote services, and a big part of our programming strategy,” says Phillips.

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