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ESPN in talks to score Internet TV programming deal

Sports network's president tells Bloomberg it's held preliminary talks about a possible deal to provide programming to an Internet-based TV service.

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Steven Musil
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ESPN already has a strong online presence. ESPN

ESPN has held preliminary discussions about possibly offering its programming on an Internet-based TV service like those reportedly under development by Apple, Google, and Intel.

John Skipper, president of the Disney-owned sports network, told Bloomberg on Wednesday that it is looking to sell online TV providers on a package of its more popular channels already offered to pay-TV subscribers, such as its namesake flagship channel, ESPN2, and ESPN News.

Online services would be required to buy "the whole suite of products," Skipper said. "We're not going to offer one-offs." Skipper declined to say which companies ESPN has been in talks with, but he did say online providers would have to pay carrier fees equivalent to or greater than those paid by cable and satellite TV providers. The sports network currently has 98 million subscribers, according to Disney's most recent annual report.

The talks are just exploratory, ESPN cautions, but they come as U.S. media-viewing habits continue to shift from traditional TV toward other devices. A Nielsen study earlier this year found that the number of people who have elected to go "Zero TV" has more than doubled since 2007. Currently, more than 5 million people don't have broadcast television in their home, while in 2007 just 2 million didn't.

While that's just 5 percent of the U.S. population, it shows that a growing number of people no longer watch traditional TV programming on television sets, opting instead to stream content on computers, tablets, smartphones, and other Internet-connected devices such as set-top boxes and Blu-ray players.

The revelation comes less than a week after it was reported that Sony had inked a deal with media giant Viacom for its cable channels on an Internet-connected television service. Sony is just one of the world's tech giants said to be developing a Web-based TV alternative. Intel has been working on a TV service aimed for release later this year, while Apple and Google are also said to be pursuing a similar offering.