Fast Break with Sean Bratches

Sean Bratches, executive vice president, sales and marketing for ESPN, reflects upon the introduction of the “WatchESPN” app, the product’s availability, and playing Augusta.

FR: With WatchESPN, it’s now possible to have ESPN programming streamed live to iPads, iPhones and iPod touch devices. Can you give us an example of when you most wanted to have this kind of accessibility? For example, a business trip or vacation where there was no cable TV access but if Watch ESPN had existed, it would have been the perfect alternative.

Bratches: Indeed. During my diurnal commute to and from New York City on Metro North. It is a challenge to consume as much content across the ESPN branded platforms as I would like to with the volume and pace the business of ESPN presents. Now having the capability to consume ESPN during my commute creates a new market of time.

FR: Was the app developed in house? Can you take us through a timeline of the major milestones in the development of this app?

Bratches: Yes, it was developed in house on a very aggressive timeline. We first launched online, with ESPNnetworks.com, in October and then set our sights on the app experience. I’m sure Damon Phillips, Jay Lee and the rest of the development team can regale you with stories of breakthroughs or snags. Fortunately for me, they keep me on a “need to know” basis, and what I needed to know is if we were going to hit the internal deadlines we had set. I’m pleased to say that we did, and I couldn’t be prouder of the team who has worked tirelessly over the last several months to make this happen.

FR: Access to the networks is initially available to Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Verizon FIOS TV subscribers. When can subscribers to other cable operators gain access? Also, when can users of Android devices use the app?

Bratches: We expect to make the App available to Android devices in the very near future, as well as an app that is specifically optimized for the iPad. Additionally, David Preschlack and the Affiliate team is always talking to our operators about new products and services and we hope to have new agreements in place very soon. There is a lot of interest being generated and I think our new campaign from Carol Kruse’s Marketing team is fantastic.

FR: In ESPN’s releases about the product, it seems every major sporting property airing on ESPN is mentioned for live streaming access except the NFL. Is “Monday Night Football” and other NFL programming a separate issue or was the NFL not mentioned because of the existing labor uncertainty?

Bratches: We mentioned the Masters, NBA and MLB — all sports currently on our air. It was not a deliberate omission; we just focused on those sports and events currently in season. That said, due to rights differences, “Monday Night Football” is only available via ESPNnetworks.com online and the Watch ESPN application on tablets and the iTouch — not on phones.

FR: There’s been some pushback online that the app is not available to enough people and that the authentication process is cumbersome. Your thoughts?

Bratches: We currently have agreements in place that brings the app to over 18 million subscribing homes and the many sports fans that reside in those homes. We look forward to expanding that footprint in the near term. As for the authentication process, admittedly, it’s not perfect. But these are the kinds of hurdles we have to overcome as first movers in the space. We hope to streamline the process as authentication proliferates and more affiliates are added to the ranks of next generation sports consumers.

FR: Who do you imagine will be the primary users of this app? Which demographic has shown interest in it that was above expectations?

Bratches: This is a groundbreaking extension of our “best screen available” philosophy and we by no means think that the app is going to replace the TV screen for primary viewing. But sports are meant to be consumed live and we expect that the displaced sports fan is going to find this app immensely useful. Whether you’re at your son’s basketball practice or your daughter’s soccer game, fans can now tune into their favorite sports any time of the day.

FR: How is this different from the apps that Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have introduced in recent weeks?

Bratches: Their apps work only in the home, whereas WatchESPN works wherever you are – home, traveling, at the dentist’s office. This is ESPN live,  in your pocket. On your iPad. On your tablet. Everywhere you are.

FR: You were at the Masters. Did you get a chance to play Augusta? What other historic sporting venues would you like to visit and or actually compete at?

Bratches: I was at the Masters and attend every year. It’s an event and environment that is special and unique. I have been extremely fortunate to have played the course on many occasions and fared quite well each time; even par through 8 on one occasion and then the wheels came off. With regard to historic stadiums that I have visited, that would be Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany. Wimbledon and The Royal & Ancient are pretty special,too.

FR: If you could have front row seats to any events — past, present, future — what would they be and why?

Bratches: I have four sons who are accomplished athletes in a variety of sports. One of my most cherished things to do is watch them compete, and I am always in the front row. Priceless. Watching their athletic contests and having a window to see them deal with winning and losing, success and failure, clarity and adversity is gratifying as a parent and part of their development. Many life lessons are learned competing in sports.

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