ESPN has approached at least one major carrier about excluding its sports videos from mobile data caps, according to the Wall Street Journal. The report notes the possibility of ESPN paying the carrier as a subsidy so that users can watch videos without fear of hitting any limits. However, ESPN is said to be still working out the economics of any potential deal; no arrangement is in place at present.
Telecom regulators may look dimly upon any partnership
Not surprisingly, the Journal also notes that telecom regulators may look dimly upon any partnership; by prioritizing ESPN's content over that of other providers, any carrier involved could violate the spirit of net neutrality. A similar debate occurred last year when Comcast decided that its Xbox 360 Infinity app wouldn't count towards its broadband customers' bandwidth caps — a situation that resulted in an antitrust probe from the Department of Justice. While mobile data is largely exempt from the FCC's Open Internet rules in part due to bandwidth constraints, there are said to be concerns that the Commission may place the topic under further scrutiny.
For ESPN, however, any such deal could offer an opportunity to push mobile further as a platform for video content and advertising without worrying about carrier-imposed caps limiting the growth potential. Carriers, too, would love to create a second revenue stream, with executives from AT&T and Verizon both having indicated that content providers could contribute to data costs. At least one carrier has reportedly said that "significant" numbers of customers hit their data allowance each month.