ESPN 360’s Business Model Sucks

This past Saturday, my dad was visiting and we planned on watching the Syracuse vs Wyoming college football game. It wasn’t broadcast on TV here in the Bay Area, but it was on ESPN 360, which is a new service that broadcasts some sports programs over the Internet. No problem, I’ve got a fast DSL line and a computer hooked up to a TV. I was looking forward to this; the future was finally here now, of narrowcasting over the Internet. I was all set to happily pay money to ESPN to watch the game. But it wasn’t to be, because ESPN’s business model wouldn’t let me give them money to watch their programming.
ESPN 360’s business model, unlike the standard practice on the Internet of marketing directly to consumers, is instead based on the cable/satellite model of charging carriers for access, which in this case are the ISPs. This is somewhat like the inverse of the recent net neutrality debate. Instead of ISPs charging Internet services, here we have an Internet service trying to charge ISPs. ESPN gets an ISP to give them a (presumably) small fee for each customer of the ISP, instead of charging individuals a (larger) fee. If your ISP has paid up, you get access. If, as was the case for me, your ISP hasn’t paid up, you lose out. This is a horrible idea for the Internet, and I was surprised to see that it isn’t getting more attention.
One of the great things about the Internet are the limitless number of services that have sprung up over the past 10 years. Imagine if your ISP had to pay a fee to all of them? Imagine then having these charges passed onto you, the consumer. Your ISP bill would increase dramatically. And more likely, each ISP would only pay these fees to a subset of services, resulting in different ‘Internets’ throughout the world. Luckily, I don’t think this business model will catch on, mainly because I think companies can make more money charging individuals directly. And while I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to watch the game, I’m quite happy that my ISP, AT&T didn’t succumb to this. What did we do instead? We listened to a radio broadcast of the game, over the Internet, paying for the privilege.



  1. ESPN360 has gone through several “iterations” since it was introduced a few years ago… none of them has really caught fire yet.
    I think perhaps a better option for your needs would be ESPN GamePlan… it lets you pay to see games that aren’t on TV. Unfortunately for me, being a UW Husky, they *still* didn’t have the UW/Arizona game available last weekend.

  2. I’ve watched games on GamePlan, as well as ESPNU, but last week’s game was only on 360.