Jim Williams: Second-screen options draw U.S. Open to ESPN deal

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Sports,Jim Williams

On Thursday, the USTA announced a new 11-year multiplatform broadcast deal with ESPN. The deal will start in 2015 and will make the network the exclusive home of all U.S. Open tennis tournament coverage.

CBS has broadcast the U.S. Open every year since 1968; its current deal expires after the 2014 tournament. Until that time, ESPN and the Tennis Channel will handle the cable coverage with CBS doing the broadcast coverage.

This deal is about the future and how fans choose to watch sports on tablets, smartphones and TV. When I asked Dave Haggerty, USTA's chairman and president, about how much the second-screen experience played into their decision to go with ESPN, he was very clear: "It had a significant impact on our decision. It really gives us the ability to deliver media, to deliver the event to consumers the way that they want it, the way they demand it today and going forward in the future."

ESPN President John Skipper chimed in on the importance of multiplatform coverage: "On the first day of our discussions, the USTA ask us about the possibility of providing coverage of all 17 courts. There right now is what I hope will soon become an anachronistic phrase, they have six television courts. We were happy to give our answer that our intention during the course of this tournament is to make every one of those matches available, and we're excited by that concept."

This is exactly the same strategy ESPN used to get Wimbledon away from NBC. Through the use of the second screen, viewers have choices and they will watch more of the event because they have more control.

We live in an on-demand world and even when it comes to live sports, we want what we want when we want it. We have choices on TV but even more via the broadband second-screen options. Networks are getting hip to how we are watching sports in 2013.

Live sports events have fixed start times, but with WatchESPN, TNT Overtime, NCAA March Madness On Demand, NBC Sports Live Extra and Fox Soccer 2Go, it has become portable and interactive. The cord has been cut there is no going back.

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc.

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Jim Williams

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The Washington Examiner