ESPN's Big World Cup Bet

ESPN is going all out for the World Cup. They've sent 300 employees to South Africa and will, for the first time ever, broadcast all 64 games from the host site. I talked to John Skipper, the ESPN's executive vice president for content, about the push.

Darren: With a relatively cheap rights fee, but significant costs on travel, infrastructure and security, how big of a money bet is this really for the network?

Skipper: This deal is advantageous for us financially. We are close to sold out on inventory across platforms. As you are well aware, we have games on TV (including ESPN Deportes in Portuguese), Internet (, radio and mobile (ESPN Mobile TV). We have 230 hours of shoulder studio programming as well as multiple web sites, iPhone applications and we had our biggest issue of the magazine in four years. This deal works fine for us financially.

Darren: There's the sense here that ratings will strongly hinge on the success of the U.S. Going along with that logic, is the England game the biggest bet ESPN has had on one game?

Skipper: No. Ratings more than doubled last year with a poor U.S. performance. They will go up again no matter the U.S. performance. Having said that, a US victory Saturday would be a rocket booster.

Darren: How much is this about the actual broadcast, ratings, versus a potential dry-run for a future Olympics and putting your name further into the international marketplace?

Skipper: World Cup is about World Cup period.

Darren: You are offering games in 3D for the first time. Have you received any reports on how many people are actually in their homes watching games on a 3D TV? I assume it's small at this point.

Skipper: 3D for us is about leadership on technology and about learning how to produce. Viewership will follow.

Questions? Comments?