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Half of ESPN Mobile users do not use PC products: keynote at Mobile Marketing Summit

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NEW YORK ? An ESPN executive said that half of the users of the sports network?s SMS alerts, mobile Web site and applications are unique to the mobile medium, during a keynote address at the first-annual Mobile Marketing Summit.

The nation's most popular sports cable network is also one of the most visited properties across mobile channels. ESPN expects huge surges of mobile traffic during this holiday season, which coincides with NCAA football and the NFL season.

?About half of people who use our mobile products don?t use our PC products?the mobile device could be their only Internet connection or their primary Internet-connected device,? said John Zehr, senior vice president and general manager of ESPN Mobile, Bristol, CT. ?Mobile is not cannibalistic?it?s an amplifier.

?Fans migrate toward best available screen, and while we?re still seeing the majority of consumption on TV, our mobile audience is growing at an astounding rate,? he said. ?In 2008 for the first time, and again last year, our mobile traffic actually exceeded our PC traffic on weekends.

?On college football Saturday and NFL Sunday we get more traffic on our mobile Web site than our wired Web site, and now there?s no going back?if you deliver a good experience, people will consume the content on their mobile device when they?re out and about.?

ESPN has harnessed the power of its brand and packaged content in just the right way to deliver sports scores, updates and news via the mobile Web, applications, video, television and SMS alerts.

The network is one of the few that has an entire team with resources dedicated to monetizing mobile while making the experience for both consumers and advertisers as pleasing as watching television.

ESPN's mobile game plan
Even though the popularity of soccer pales in comparison to that of American football in this country, even the U.S. caught World Cup fever this year.

In fact, ESPN believes that the 2010 FIFA World Cup was a watershed moment for mobile, as records of all sorts were broken (see story).

?What did we learn? Mobile is personal, it?s digital and it?s also video?the World Cup was a seminal event for live mobile video,? Mr. Zehr said. ?We?re really just hitting the tip of the iceberg.

?There is also a social aspect of it?the marriage of mobile and social becomes very powerful,? he said.

Mr. Zehr expects similar but more sustained bursts of mobile traffic during the upcoming football season, which dovetails nicely with the holiday season.

?People have a passion for the holidays, and we?re connecting with their passion for sports teams,? Mr. Zehr said. ?During the holiday season, people are out and about, in retail environments, and intersecting into that discussion via mobile can be extremely powerful.?

When it comes to the various channels within the mobile medium, ESPN does not discriminate. The network tries to exist on every consumer touch point it possibly can.

?We want to serve sports fans on every screen and every platform that exists, and that includes mobile,? Mr. Zehr said.

That includes SMS. ESPN issues the call-to-action ?Text the keyword ALERT to the short code 4ESPN to get mobile alerts,? an effective way to engage consumers and build a database for remarketing.

?Starting with the lowest common denominator is key?you should have some sort of simple text and response short code,? Mr. Zehr said. ?Start building a database and understand what people want.

?Mobile works great as a one-to-one communication mechanism,? he said. ?I like to think of mobile as a superset of the Web, not a subset or step child.

?It can do everything the PC Web can do but a lot more in terms of interactivity and reaching consumers wherever they are.?

In addition to its highly trafficked mobile Web site, ESPN has both free/ad-supported and premium applications for Apple?s iPhone and iPod touch and Google?s Android.

ESPN just recently launched Fantasy Football, the first of its applications that is available for iPhone, Android and Research In Motion?s BlackBerry.

The sports network uses its house mobile inventory to cross-promote its mobile products. It also sells its mobile inventory directly to advertisers.

For example, Subway recently ran an ad campaign within one of ESPN?s Local applications to promote its Fiery Footlong sandwiches (see story).

There is a optimized version of for the iPad, as well as ESPN the Magazine and ScoreCenterXL applications for iPad.

?The iPad is becoming very powerful in terms of delivering content to consumers,? Mr. Zehr said. ?There are a plethora of devices coming out in the tablet format, and I do consider tablets to be mobile devices.?

Final take