ESPN has started consolidating its two largest apps into one piece of software, today updating the iOS 9 and Android versions of its core ESPN app with the ability to watch live sports. Previously, subscribers could only watch clips and highlights through the app, and those who wanted to watch live games on their mobile devices would be redirected to WatchESPN — a separate install.
ESPN's app streaming traffic is rising
The shift — which ESPN says is the first major step in marrying its two biggest apps — comes as its app traffic is growing. The network says WatchESPN scored 11 million total unique viewers in September, watching 2.2 billion minutes of live footage, a rise of 50 percent and 92 percent respectively year-on-year, and making the month its most-viewed since the World Cup ended. This year has also brought WatchESPN's top 12 highest audiences for Monday Night Football, top five regular season college football games, and top 13 most-viewed regular season college football weeks.
Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, and Dish customers have been able to use WatchESPN for years now, but DirecTV subscribers only gained access in February, after the network signed a deal with ESPN and Disney to stream their content. The WatchESPN app will keep its current functionality, staying alongside the main ESPN app as one of the few places you'll be able to watch the network's footage, after ESPN pulled all of its videos off YouTube earlier this year, a result of a rights conflict with YouTube's new paid subscriptions.
ESPN isn't the only sports network to step up its streaming options this year. CBS announced it would stream two NFL regular season games for free this year, and Yahoo stepped into the ring earlier in 2015, offering free global streaming for a tilt between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills in October. Viewership figures for Yahoo's experiment lagged way behind TV norms, but the NFL said it was "thrilled with the results," especially as the contest was between two smaller-market teams.