There was a big story out last week that a lot of people missed. According to The Wall Street Journal (as reported by electronista), ESPN is weighing the idea of subsidizing users’ wireless data for mobile streaming of ESPN video. That would mean that the sports network would pay for bandwidth used by consumers to watch ESPN content on mobile devices in order to keep them below monthly usage caps.
Let’s reflect back for a moment.
In 2011, I wrote the following:
In the future, I could see Slacker (the Internet radio service) bundling mobile data access with my monthly subscription to give me unlimited music streaming. I get that now, but only through a grandfathered unlimited data plan with Verizon, which I don’t expect to last forever. I wouldn’t want to pay an unlimited “tax” on every application, but if there are only one or two that threaten to put me over my monthly limit, I would seriously consider an application-specific broadband fee.
There are a few applications that present a compelling proposition for bundling delivery fees with the price of the actual service. Whether a content provider subsidizes those costs, or consumers pay them out of pocket, certain applications are so tied to their delivery mechanisms, that the economics grow harder and harder to separate.
Amazon has used the bundling model with Whispernet, the network service that allows users of certain Kindles to download books at will… without paying a separate data fee. Initially Amazon opened the network service up to any kind of consumer Internet activity, but in 2012 the company began capping service so that users can only use it for Amazon and Wikipedia access beyond a certain data threshold.
If ESPN ultimately does look to bundle data service with its content, there will be new net neutrality issues to wade through. However, unlike the situation with Comcast separating out its own IP-delivered video from monthly usage caps, at least in this case ESPN doesn’t own the mobile networks its riding on.
That’s a point in ESPN’s favor.