Xbox, ESPN are teammates

Pact includes game replays, series

ESPN and Microsoft have inked a deal to bring full-length games and TV shows from the sports network to Xbox Live, the online entertainment network for the Xbox 360.

Among the offerings available for purchase starting today on the Xbox Live Marketplace are days-old, full-length NCAA college football and basketball games, Summer X Games 13 and episodes of such ESPN shows as "World Series of Poker," "The Contender" and "Madden Nation."

ESPN's Xbox Live offerings will kick off with a replay of Saturday's USC-Oregon State game.

ESPN has been on Xbox Live's main rival in video downloads, Apple's iTunes, since January 2006.

"This is only the second deal ESPN has done regarding electronic sell-through, and we think it's a fantastic match for our platform and our consumer base, many of whom are avid sports fans," said Ross Honey, senior director of the media and entertainment group at Microsoft. "ESPN not only has great sports content but does a lot of programming around video games these days such as 'Madden Nation.' "

Pricing for the ESPN content will range from the equivalent of $2 for standard-definition episodes of "Contender" and "Poker" to $2.40 for HD versions. Two-hour football and basketball games will be available within days of their original airing and be priced at $3 for standard definition and $4.50 for HD.

"Establishing this relationship with Microsoft on Xbox 360 provides an innovative way to reach our target demographic through this dynamic next-generation entertainment console," said Matt Murphy, senior vp digital video distribution at Disney and ESPN Media Networks.

Honey added that the deal is further proof of the growing momentum that Xbox Live is generating as a content-distribution platform. Since its formal launch a year ago as a provider of movies and TV content, Xbox Live has signed deals with a host of major content providers, including Warner Bros., Fox, Paramount, Disney, New Line, Lionsgate, Miramax, MTV and Turner Broadcasting.

"We've been far more successful than anyone thought and are the most successful TV-based Internet on-demand platform — better than AppleTV, better than Akamai, better than anyone in the space," he said.

Honey noted that some Xbox Live content aimed at the young-male demo already outsells iTunes. "Our content partners recognize that young males are spending more and more time on game consoles, and this is a great way to maintain a connection with them.

"In addition, we have almost 500 hours of on-demand high-definition content and what's been exciting for our partners is (that) we charge a 50% premium for things such as high-definition movies and nearly half of our units are in high-definition," he added.