WatchESPN (formerly ESPN Networks) is an Internet television website and mobile application operated by ESPN Inc., a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (which operates the network, through its 80% controlling ownership interest) and the Hearst Communications (which holds the remaining 20% interest).
The service provides streaming simulcasts of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNews, ESPN Deportes, Longhorn Network, SEC Network, ESPN Goal Line and ESPN Buzzer Beater for select cable television subscribers in the United States; it is also the exclusive platform for broadcasts from ESPN3, which until 2011, had operated as a separate website with a similar functionality to WatchESPN. The service is only available to subscribers of participating cable, IPTV and satellite television providers, and is not offered as a standalone internet-only subscription service available to those who do not have a pay television subscription.
WatchESPN originally launched on October 25, 2010, when Time Warner Cable became the first cable television provider to offer ESPN Networks, which provided subscribers to ESPN an online simulcast of the channel through a dedicated website. Bright House Networks (for which Time Warner Cable handles distribution agreements) began offering ESPN Networks on November 22, 2010. On January 25, 2011, ESPN Networks added streaming simulcast feeds of ESPN2 and ESPNU, as well as out-of-market sports packages ESPN Goal Line and ESPN Buzzer Beater to the website, accessible only to subscribers of those services. Verizon FiOS began providing access to streams on the ESPN Networks website on February 17, 2011.
On April 7, 2011, ESPN released a mobile app called WatchESPN on the App Store for Apple devices, using the same subscriber authentication functionality to allow access to simulcasts of the available ESPN channels on the service via the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch; the app was released on the Android Market (now Google Play) on May 9, 2011. The ESPN Networks website was subsequently rebranded under the WatchESPN name on August 31, 2011 (the "Watch" brand has since been applied to other TV Everywhere applications for television networks owned by ESPN co-owner Disney–ABC Television Group since the launch of the service, including those for ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform). On May 8, 2012, Comcast began allowing authenticated Xfinity TV customers access to WatchESPN's streams via the app, as part of a deal in which the streams available on WatchESPN would also be made available on the XfinityTV.com website. On August 28, 2012, Midco began allowing access to WatchESPN's simulcasts for its customers. Charter Communications added access to the service in mid-February 2013. Dish Network, the first satellite provider to provide access to WatchESPN, announced it had added the service on April 1, 2014.
Longhorn Network and SEC Network programs were added to the service upon SEC Network's launch on August 14, 2014 (Longhorn Network is limited to its distribution area and not available nationwide through WatchESPN). As a result of this, ESPN Classic is the only remaining ESPN network that is not yet available for streaming on the service. ESPN Classic, which is phasing out linear distribution, is set to be added in 2015.
As of June 2017, ESPN has started to demphasize the WatchESPN branding on air in favor of the ESPN app, which also has all the functionality of WatchESPN within the app. Despite this, WatchESPN remains operational albeit with some bugs.
Simulcasts of the ESPN channels available on the WatchESPN app and website (including ESPN Goal Line and ESPN Buzzer Beater) are only available to subscribers of pay television providers AT&T U-verse, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Dish Network (including subsidiary Sling TV), Google Fiber, Grande Communications, Midcontinent Communications, Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS and Xfinity TV (formerly Comcast Digital Cable); Atlantic Broadband is set to begin allowing access to the service for its customers by the end of 2014. In 2015, as part of a new agreement with The Walt Disney Company, DirecTV (the largest holdout among major pay TV providers) added authentication rights to WatchESPN for its subscribers.
The two major IPTV providers, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, also offer authentication to WatchESPN; the two services, however, offer the same feeds of the ESPN networks that are carried on the WatchESPN platform (including with selected advertisements replaced by the "We'll Back Right Back" message and black screen), as opposed as the cable/satellite versions of each respective ESPN channel.
ESPN3, a similar service that had operated separately from WatchESPN until it was integrated into the service in 2011, is available through many other cable providers including those listed above. In all cases, a TV Everywhere login (or other login code for university and military customers) through a customer's service provider is required to access the services; ESPN3 is also accessible without login if the user's IP address can be traced to a participating ISP.
The WatchESPN.com website allows fans to view and switch between among up to 20 events in a main viewing window, which can exceed the amount of bandwidth that can be handled by most broadband subscribers. Events available on the service that have recently been completed are archived and available for on-demand replay. The WatchESPN player additionally features four modules: Featured Events (which shows viewers highlights of live and upcoming events available on WatchESPN), Stats (which features statistics from the streamed event), the Chat 140 section (which allows fans to discussion the events with other fans), and Facebook connect (which connects fans to their Facebook profile and allows them to both post about the event that they are watching on their wall and discuss the event with other Facebook fans).
WatchESPN is available through the ESPN app for Android and iOS, and the WatchESPN app for Windows Phone. In December 2015, WatchESPN's streaming features were integrated directly into the main ESPN app for Android and iOS, with the standalone WatchESPN app discontinued on these platforms.
Due to Verizon Wireless's exclusive rights to stream NFL games on mobile devices to its subscribers, NFL telecasts are not available on the app.
On June 19, 2013, the service became available through Apple TV. WatchESPN became available on Roku streaming players on November 12, 2013. Chromecast support was added to the Android and iOS apps as part of an update released on June 3, 2014.