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Disney’s ESPN in Talks With Apple for Expanded TV Access

Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN sports network is talking with Apple Inc. about giving subscribers online access to programming through the computer maker’s Apple TV device, according to two executives.

The network would consider putting its WatchESPN application on Apple TV for users who confirm they are pay-TV customers, ESPN executive Sean Bratches said today.

ESPN, the most-watched U.S. sports network is making more programming available online and on mobile devices to reach customers watching TV in new formats. The network now provides subscribers ESPN3, a digital channel that’s part of the WatchESPN app, to subscribers through Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox video-game console as part of some pay-TV plans, including from Verizon Communications Inc.’s FiOS and Comcast Corp.

“We’re a platform-agnostic content company,” Bratches, the network’s executive vice president of affiliate and advertising sales, said today in an interview. “To the extent that in the future there’s an opportunity with Apple to authenticate through the pay-TV food chain as we’re doing with Microsoft, that’s something that we will participate in.”

ESPN is also talking with other Internet video providers, said Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of global customer marketing and sales. Earlier this year, ESPN allowed Facebook Inc. users to watch college basketball games on an authenticated basis.

The executives spoke at advertiser meetings in New York today, where the network announced programming for the TV season starting in September.

No Deal

No deal is imminent with Apple, said Amy Phillips, a spokeswoman for Bristol, Connecticut-based ESPN.

“We’re not having conversations with Apple about authenticating WatchESPN,” Phillips said.

Tom Neumayr, a spokesman for Apple, declined to comment.

Using apps to expand cable-channel viewing online involves a number of steps, including security, carrier access and getting the software installed on Web-connected devices, such as the Xbox, that are popular with viewers.

Time Warner Cable Inc., for example, offers customers WatchESPN, though ESPN3 isn’t available through Xbox. The cable system, second to Comcast, expects to have a deal soon, according to Alex Dudley, a spokesman for New York-based Time Warner Cable.

Disney, based in Burbank, California, declined 0.4 percent to $45.01 at the close in New York. The stock has climbed 20 percent this year. Apple, based in Cupertino, California, fell 0.9 percent to $553.17 and has gained 37 percent this year.

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