Mossberg Not Too Enthusiastic About Mobile ESPN

ESPN execs have said all along that Mobile ESPN is designed for the hard-core sports fan and, as Walt Mossberg found out, they were telling the truth. What wasn’t clear until now was the extent of the walled garden being created for that experience. Even the hard-core fans who want to download applications — not allowed — or browse beyond ESPN-approved sites — not allowed directly — may think twice after reading a review with this conclusion: “Bottom line: The sports content on this phone is excellent, but for most people, it’s not worth the trade-offs in price, hassle and Web restrictions.”
ESPN tried to explain what Mossberg calls “an outrageous level of control,” saying its “is a temporary measure designed to protect its software from the ‘corruption’ that it says can be introduced if users download programs from certain sites.” That restriction will be removed sometime this year but unapproved software will not be allowed.
Also, when he tested it, email and instant messaging were “coming soon.” On the plus side, Mossberg “liked the elaborate package of sports news and information that lies at the heart of the new venture, which can only be accessed via ESPN phones and the ESPN service.”
ESPN’s efforts to manage the experience make sense to some extent while the learning process for the company is underway. And, granted, a lot of people don’t want to stretch mobile boundaries. Still, it brings to mind the concerns I’ve heard raised often by execs from other companies about the tension between maintaining the brand and being a service provider responsible for making something as vital as a phone work.