By Eliot Van Buskirk

February 6, Wired

For some sports fans, ESPN360, the online version of ESPN's television channel, is a cornucopia of more than 3,500 sporting events each year, viewable from the convenience of a computer. For others, it's a total bust. The only difference: their ISP.

The culprit is ESPN's strategy of licensing ISPs rather than users. If your ISP doesn't want to pay for you to watch ESPN360, there's nothing you can do about it, short of switching to a provider that pays for it. While other companies strive for a more direct, one-to-one relationship with consumers, ESPN is doggedly pursuing the same strategy online that made it a success in the TV world: licensing pipes, not people. And it just might work.

"We're believers," ESPN executive vice president for affiliate sales and marketing David Preschlack told "It's just the point of view that we have: that as opposed to just selling speed, content is going to play a role in the high-speed data marketplace."

Other major media providers like Disney (ESPN's parent company) and the NFL are also charging internet providers for the right to deliver their content, and record labels are considering following suit. Disney Connection — available on Verizon but not Comcast — includes classic cartoons, games, movie previews and other content for preschoolers, kids and teens. Meanwhile the NFL Network Game Extra service offers live games on Thursday and Saturday nights with four camera angles to choose from. But unless your ISP pays, you can't see any of it.

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