SBJ/February 6 - 12, 2006/Media

ESPN pulls fee for ‘SportsCenter’ downloads

ESPN last week quickly removed the $1.99 fee for its “SportsCenter” commercials sold on Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes after a fervent wave of negative user feedback.

iTunes users chuckled at the commercials,
but balked at paying $2 for each download.
Digital downloads of the “This is SportsCenter” spots, part of a broader iTunes-ESPN distribution deal announced early last month, debuted on the virtual store Jan. 28. Within hours, fans had openly voiced their displeasure at the fee applied to each commercial. The ESPN ads were tagged with a lowly one-star user rating out of five before the Jan. 31 price change.

“ESPN and ABC should be ashamed for charging this much for so little,” said one review posted on iTunes. “Yes, the commercials are funny, but not worth $2 for 30 seconds of video.”

With the sudden switch to free downloads, Apple also wiped out the negative user comments. ESPN officials blamed the situation on a “mix-up” and said last week that the network never intended to charge for downloads of the commercials.

In announcing its iTunes deal last month, ESPN trumpeted making the commercials available but never said anything about offering them for free.

The swift turnabout also highlights the rapidly evolving demand for online content. Mere months ago, putting any official sports content on the Internet for personal download represented something of a novelty. Now, fans are quickly deciphering what content is worthy, such as ESPN’s well-received condensed versions of college football’s Bowl Championship Series games, and actively shunning the rest.

“All the Apple juju in the world can’t help you if you’re selling crappy content,” said Tom Hespos, president of New York-based Underscore Marketing. “I expect to see many such gaffes in the future as the market for downloadable video content develops further.”

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