SBJ/March 5-11, 2012/Media

ESPN opening digital content to developers

ESPN is opening its digital content to outside developers, with the aim of using new online and mobile products created by third parties to help expand its already substantial reach.

The ESPN Developer Center has been in development for nearly a year.
The company this week at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas, will formally announce a new ESPN Developer Center and a set of application programming interface kits. Those APIs will allow outside developers access to ESPN material such as editorial content, scores and schedules, and research on specific sports, teams and players.

ESPN in the past has partnered with third parties in traditional business development deals to place its content beyond its own platforms. But the new effort will create a more public and expansive structure in which a far greater number of outside entities will have access to ESPN content.

“This has the potential to be very additive to ESPN’s business,” said Dave Greeley, managing director for media consultancy and research firm Frank N. Magid Associates. “Every platform matters, and what they’re doing here further recognizes that.”

Several of ESPN’s primary digital competitors, including Yahoo! and CBS, have similar developer programs, particularly for fantasy sports. But given the depth and breadth of ESPN’s digital content, this latest initiative holds the potential for even greater scale.

“This is a way to take business development to the next level,” said Jason Guenther, vice president of ESPN digital media technology. “This is literally about unlocking our content and making barriers to entry for development and innovation as low as possible.”

The ESPN Developer Center has been in development for nearly a year, and several partners of the company are among the first to experiment with the APIs. The early adopters include popular location-based social media platform Foursquare, and Flipboard and Pulse, two developers of news-reading applications that have won acclaim for helping make newsfeeds and websites more graphically oriented and interactive.

“This allows us to slice and dice their content in some really interesting ways,” said Akshay Kothari, Pulse chief executive and co-founder. “Being where content is consumed, we think, is a very good thing for publishers, and ESPN is now one of the biggest publishers in our platform.”

Financial terms of the ESPN Developer Center were not disclosed, and will likely vary depending on the type and scope of the products created by developers.

ESPN executives said the initiative will also complement ESPN’s internal product development efforts.

“We see this as a great means to connect with developers and have access to some of the new and exciting things being created out there,” Guenther said. “This will definitely keep us on our toes.”

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