ESPN dominates sports on television. Now, the cable heavyweight is making a run at the big screen.
ESPN said it would collaborate with Creative Artists Agency and Walt Disney Studios to produce and distribute theatrical films with sports themes. As part of the network's expansion in filmed entertainment, ESPN is also hiring 30 filmmakers to produce one-hour mini-movies to appear on the channel starting in September 2009.
"We see this as a new way to reach sports fans and engage them," said Keith Clinkscales, ESPN's senior vice president for content development. "A lot of people who spend time being engaged in ESPN also spend a lot of time going to the movies."
Movies will be financed by Walt Disney, which owns ESPN; outside investors; or a combination thereof. ESPN executives declined to comment on financial elements, except to say budgets would vary by project.
The self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader in Sports" is on a mission to tap into new areas of growth as it faces challenges in its core operations. ESPN, which is nearing its 30th birthday, remains one of the media industry's biggest gold mines, with successful magazine and Internet extensions to complement its suite of cable channels.
But ESPN must also battle the exploding amount of sports video on the Web and maintain growth as cable operators resist paying higher subscription fees for the right to carry its programming (ESPN charges about $3.50 a month for each subscriber; the vast majority of cable channels charge well under $1.).
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