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Mobile is an exciting new format for many businesses, opening new opportunities for paid content and increased viewership. But are mobile sites and apps poaching viewers that might normally interact with a company's more robust web property?

According to a presentation from ESPN, mobile is instead opening an entirely new market for the company, and their findings can be useful for other verticals as well.

ESPN is America's most popular sports cable network and is dedicated to "serve sports fans wherever sports are watched, listened to, discussed, debated, read about or played." To that end, the company has invested a lot of energy into creating a strong mobile product, which is one of the most visited properties across mobile channels.

Speaking at the Mobile Marketing Summit in New York this week, John Zehr, SVP and general manager of ESPN Mobile, explained how mobile is changing their business:

“About half of people who use our mobile products don’t use our PC products—the mobile device could be their only Internet connection or their primary Internet-connected device. Mobile is not cannibalistic—it’s an amplifier."

For the World Cup, ESPN paid close attention to sports fans' viewing habits. And the company learned some interesting things about its mobile viewers.

For starters, ESPN Mobile, which includes mobile web, the company's ScoreCenter and the World Cup app, generated 98 million visits to World Cup content during the tournament. The main site, ESPN.com, had 128 Million visits.

There were also 2.5 million downloads of ESPN's World Cup App (1.5M in June alone). A full 7% of them upsold to a premium ESPN experience.

Engagement is high among mobile users. According to the company, 16 million alerts were sent via SMS and ESPN's World Cup application. And the average fan received a total of 242 alerts during the two week long event.

Meanwhile, the company's mobile properties out-delivered ESPN.com in visits & page views on six different days
during the tournament.

But mobile isn't simply poaching viewers that formerly viewed content online. 36% of ESPN's mobile viewers were a completely new audience from those who view sports content on ESPN.com. That's great news for the company, meaning they are offering a new service that sports fans find useful in a way they never did before. 

Some other astounding stats come from mobile video viewership. ESPN Mobile TV reached 1 million unique viewers who consumed 93 million minutes of live World Cup video.

Among those viewers, the average time spent watching mobile video per person per game was 20 minutes. That number is pretty powerful proof that consumers are ready for long form mobile video content. Watching a quick YouTube clip while you're away from a computer is one thing. But over 20 minutes of video watching on a mobile device is a conscious choice and proving a preference for video on a handheld device.

According to Zehr:

“On college football Saturday and NFL Sunday we get more traffic on our mobile Web site than our wired Web site, and now there’s no going back—if you deliver a good experience, people will consume the content on their mobile device when they’re out and about.”

Meghan Keane

Published 9 September, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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