ESPN adds college football audio

ESPN.com begins blending Broadcast.com's college football audio programming into its own content, a natural move for both.

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ESPN.com has begun blending Broadcast.com's college football audio programming into its own content, a natural move for both parties that marks another small step in the march toward convergence.

Announced yesterday, the straightforward cross-linking agreement has been underway for about two weeks, according to Dan Routman, Broadcast.com's vice president of business development.

Rollout began shortly after ESPN's relaunch at the beginning of the month, but contractual details weren't finalized until this week. Terms were not released.

The deal means a portion of ESPN's "Live Radio/TV" section points college football enthusiasts to Broadcast.com. The service complements a variety of audio programming already on the site, including NBA games taken from ESPN Internet Ventures' NBA.com and World Series and the NBA finals games produced by ESPN Radio, a joint venture between ABC Radio and ESPN that now claims some 450 affiliates.

ESPN.com also contains programming from popular TV shows like ESPN SportsCenter and ESPN News (a recently launched cable station that's separate from the flagship channel). But the tie-up is ESPN's first with a non-affiliated Web site (affiliate Mountain Zone cybercasts mountain sports events).

Broadcast.com's college gridiron section averages about 100 or so games a week across all four NCAA divisions. The Dallas-based company's 30-person sports department negotiates for Internet audio rights with some 130 schools for football, basketball, and other sports, repurposing local radio broadcasts for users listening in over the Net.

Broadcast.com has previously struck a similar arrangement with CBS Sportsline for NCAA basketball's popular final four, but Routman indicated the company still is exploring its long-term options.

"We're seeing how the relationship [with content providers] works and thinking it'll raise awareness of what we're trying to do," he said. "We're not in the business of creating content."

The mutual benefits are obvious, according to Patrick Keane, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications. "Broadcast.com's pitch is that there are not TVs or radios on most [office] desks," where most users access the Net. "It's logical for ESPN and a good fit for Broadcast.com as they try to grow."

But Web videocasting remains in the distance, Keane added, pointing out that bandwidth issues remain considerable.