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ESPN wants to ring you up with highlights

Posted by iNext - 2005-11-26

For the big day-after Thanksgiving shopping stampede: How about going online to give the fanatic in your life a way to watch sports on a 2-inch screen costing $400?

While the $400 ESPN Mobile cellphones won't be in stores nationwide until February, they go on sale online Friday at mobileespn.com, whose homepage headline hypes that phone with ESPN's usual understated tone - "The Greatest Invention in the History of the World. Ever."

Mountains of sports information is available through cellphones. But Manish Jha, ESPN Mobile senior vice president, says ESPN phones will be the first to alert users that, say, their favorite team scored - yes, the ring tone can be set to SportsCenter's da-da-da, da-da-da - and then show a video highlight of the play within minutes and even as the game goes on.

ESPN can do this because it's been gathering cellphone video rights in TV deals of sports it shows, such as Major League Baseball, and sports it doesn't, such as the NHL. Jha suggests that phone users will want more video because, like more computer users getting broadband access, a national infrastructure is being developed that will deliver broadband video to phones that will make 2-inch screens more watchable.

ESPN, says Dave Linsalata, an analyst at the research firm IDC, is the first "really big" brand name to create its own cellphones - although he says there's been a Barbie phone - and might have an edge over rivals by being able to quickly speed highlights from its TV games.

Michael Cupo, an ESPN technical producer, will cut highlights for ESPN phones in the same highlight factory whose assembly lines churn out footage for ESPN's various TV outlets. He suggests the ESPN phone unit might provide work for announcers - "some people here might start out on the phone" - and will make segments with its TV talking heads that only show up on phones - "we're trying to do as many things as possible to see what sticks." But, he says, there are limits: TV close-ups are OK, "but high and wide game shots look terrible on phones."

Next year the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences will add a Sports Emmy category - for content made for cellphones and other handheld devices. Really. And here's a potential star turn for phones: Jha envisions your phone also someday serving as your TV remote control.

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