With many iPhone users being restricted by capped data plans on the largest U.S. carriers, cable sports network ESPN has shown interest in potentially subsidizing those data plans to allow users to stream video without worrying about overage fees. According to The Wall Street Journal, ESPN has allegedly had discussions with at least one major U.S. carrier about the plans. The two largest carriers in the U.S., Verizon and AT&T, both carry the iPhone and unsurprisingly both restrict new customers with capped data plans.

The concept proposed by ESPN could potentially guarantee that content streamed from the network would not result in data plan overage charges. The network has reportedly expressed interest in either paying carriers outright, or giving them a share of advertising revenue. The alleged deal isn’t imminent, as the economics behind the deal may not work out.

Carriers such as Verizon and AT&T are both said to be interested in content deals as a way of increasing revenue without raising fees for subscribers, which should help them each retain customers. On the other hand, ESPN has aggressively been pursuing mobile streaming capabilities as smartphones and tablets have gained popularity. The network’s WatchESPN application allows users with participating cable subscribers to stream live sporting events from the ESPN family of networks.


As of right now, content available on WatchESPN includes the NBA regular season and playoffs, major golf tournaments like The Masters and U.S. Open, college football and basketball, and thousands of other live events. The service also streams original ESPN shows such as SportsCenter, Pardon the Interruption, and Mike and Mike in the Morning. Given that smartphone users might be reluctant to use live streaming video services like WatchESPN on the go because of restrictive mobile data plan caps in place via wireless carriers. Both Verizon and AT&T charge customers a $15 fee for each gigabyte consumed in excess of their data plan cap. According to data compiled by GigaOm, watching low-quality video for one hour uses about 200 megabytes of data. For an hour of high-definition video, a user might expect to see 400 megabytes of usage on their mobile data plan.

Source: GigaOm, The Wall Street Journal