ESPN Mobile Takes a Long Walk Off a Short Dock

Whispers of trouble at ESPN’s fledgling MVNO have in recent day s grown to a roar, and now it’s official: The company will shut down the service by the end of the year (DeadSpin has the memo). Handset sales are suspended immediately and the comopany will refund the full price of purchase. ESPN will instead pursue a licensing strategy with the mobile channel.

The failure of such a powerful media brand in the once-hyped MVNO space drives home an essential lesson of the networked age: media companies seeking to launch branded platforms and messaging infrastructures face a tough sell. No special reason they can’t do it, but why should they? That’s one of the questions that wasn’t answered to consumers satisfaction in this case. Another lesson is more basic: Most Americans simply aren’t yet enamored of content and in particular video on phones. Perhaps ESPN should try again in three years.

It also seemed lately the folks behind the effort were missing one of the main tenets of mobile video publishing as it exists today: brevity. This was evidenced by the move last month to carry college football games in their entirety on the service. Contrast that misguided decision with a service like The Madden Report, now in its second season on Verizon’s vCast service. That project combines exclusive voice-over from John Madden with animated statistics and video shorts. Last season it was second in popularity only to the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders on the service. The reason? It’s fun, useful and over in about two minutes.

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