ESPN3 Turns Xbox Into Sports Arena

Microsoft’s Xbox is a hugely popular platform for sports games. Starting this November, the gaming console will become home to thousands of real-life sporting events.

ESPN has inked an exclusive, multi-year deal with Microsoft to deliver ESPN3 (formerly ESPN360) via Xbox Live, the Web-based entertainment platform which reaches over 20 million gamers worldwide. That means Xbox Live subscribers will be able to stream over 3,500 live events, ranging from college bowl games to Grand Slam tennis tournaments, as well as on-demand video clips and highlights.

The deal marks the first time ESPN3 will be available to a significant number of TV viewers. Excluding the small number of Americans who currently connect their TVs to the Web in some fashion through their computers, ESPN3 is primarily available online only to subscribers of select Internet service providers These include Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Cox, representing 50 million households overall.

The pact also presents one of the first opportunities for Xbox to offer its subscribers live content. While the fast-growing Xbox Live service has become a central entertainment hub for many users, its content is composed mostly of movies and TV shows, rather than live television. Users wishing to watch live games via Xbox Live must receive their Internet service from those same ESPN-affiliated providers and must also be Xbox Live Gold members.

As part of the new integration, Xbox members will also be able to see what other Xbox gamers are viewing in real time, and get the chance to interact with other fans via trivia contests, polls and prediction questions.

For ESPN, the partnership provides access to a hard-to-reach demographic (male-skewing, entertainment-junkie gamers), while helping market the still under-the-radar ESPN3. But according to John Kosner, ESPN’s svp, gm of digital media, getting ESPN3 on TV was not the main motivator.

“No, it’s not about getting TV,” he said. “The idea of having a live sporting experience and sharing it with friends, that was a novel, interesting experience [that drove this deal]. People watch sports on TV all day long. But you have to drop off Xbox if you watch the World Cup on TV. This way we get to really embed the live experience in Xbox, and it gives us a chance to be relevant and interesting to a new audience.”