Streaming service WatchESPN is becoming a more important part of ESPN’s business all the time, and now the company is going to promote it further alongside its regular mobile content, moving towards combining the ESPN and WatchESPN apps. CNN’s Brian Stelter included a note in his newsletter Wednesday night that ESPN plans to incorporate WatchESPN into its regular mobile app. Stelter added they also plan to include picture-in-picture functionality, so users can continue to read ESPN stories while watching games.
Thursday morning, ESPN made it official:
Beginning today, video subscribers with iOS 9 and Android handsets and tablets can download a new update to the ESPN app that will allow them to stream live events from WatchESPN directly within the app. The update comes ahead of the conclusion of the college football regular season, bowl games and College Football Playoff.
“Offering the convenience of live streaming within one app reinforces the value of the multichannel subscription,” said Sean Breen, Senior Vice President of Affiliate Sales, Disney & ESPN Media Networks. “Even with WatchESPN’s recent record-breaking viewership, we continue to be aggressive in driving awareness to a large scale audience and to incentivize video subscribers to authenticate.”
Upon logging in with a video subscription username and password, fans will receive one-tap access to live streaming events in the ESPN app through the rebranded “WatchESPN” tab or by tapping “Watch Live” within a detailed game page. During WatchESPN playback on iPad, fans will also be able to navigate away from the ESPN app with picture-in-picture viewing, allowing them to multitask as they’re watching a live event.
“Today’s update to the ESPN app is a major first step towards marrying our two largest applications and our two largest mobile audiences,” said Ryan Spoon, Senior Vice President of Digital Product Management, ESPN. “By bringing WatchESPN’s functionality into the ESPN app, sports fans now have a single home to follow, watch and listen live to all of their favorite sports events, teams and content.”
Video subscribers can continue to visit the WatchESPN app for the full experience, including live, upcoming and replay events and the ability to browse by sport, channel or through search. Picture-in-picture functionality will also continue to be available for the WatchESPN app on iPad.
It’s going to be interesting to see just how this plays out, especially if the end goal is to completely combine the two apps. Will ESPN be able to ensure that those looking just for live games can find that content without disruptive ESPN.com stories? And how will this work with the third-party platforms that deliver WatchESPN to TVs, such as Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, XBox Live and more? Also, will many people take advantage of the picture-in-picture functionality, and could that boost traffic for ESPN’s stories if people are reading them while watching games?
The basic idea here seems to make a lot of sense. It seems somewhat logical to roll ESPN’s two most-popular apps into one and have them work to enhance each other, and written content and games certainly can complement each other if presented correctly. A more prominent presence for WatchESPN in the main ESPN app may help boost ESPN’s streaming numbers, too. Still, this is going to be a massive undertaking with a whole host of potential bugs, and the substantial WatchESPN fanbase in particular will be keeping a close eye on how well it works. If ESPN can pull this off well, they should be in an even stronger position in terms of mobile/tablet/streaming content, but if this is implemented clumsily, they could create a lot of backlash.