ESPN takes ESPNcricinfo mobile

Starting from humble beginnings at the very dawn of the Internet, ESPNcricinfo has, over 19 years, become one of the main specialist sports Websites on the Web, serving 800 million page views during the recent Twenty20 World Cup. And, with an app launched during the tournament in September, ESPN is serious about taking the site mobile.

It’s a funny game, cricket. Largely impenetrable to anyone who hasn’t grown up with its rules and rhythms, mostly in the remnants of the British Empire, it has an old-fashioned, rather staid image. That, however, belies its fervent embrace of video technology to help its umpires reach correct decisions, and, with a new, quick game format gaining rapid popularity (a Twenty20 match, where each side bowls only 20 overs, can be completed in as little as three hours), it suddenly seems a sport tailor-made for the 21st century.

Certainly, the ESPNcricinfo Website has gone from strength to strength since the broadcaster bought it in 2007.

“During the recent T20 World Cup, we saw strong use of the site in the U.S., with that market providing more audience than any market globally, bar the Indian subcontinent,” says Anil Nair, creative director, mobile, ESPN EMEA. “In the UK, we see very good take up of its mobile apps, while, in India, mobile Web-access growth is dramatic. To give you a sense of its growth globally, via all devices and platforms, ESPNcricinfo posted its best-ever audiences for the Twenty20 format of the game around the recent T20 World Cup — with fans logging more than 800 million page views and spending 2.3 billion total minutes. These figures represent a 215% and 323% increase [respectively] compared to the 2010 edition of the tournament.”

The ESPNcricinfo site is massive, and distilling all that into an app with a clean user interface has been a bit of a challenge for the broadcaster. Sensibly, therefore, the company has decided to focus on quick and easy access to real-time information.

“The core of our objective was to marry the breadth of content available on ESPNcricinfo with the rich immersive experience the iPad provides,” says Nair. “The iPad app gives you all the key elements fans expect of ESPNcricinfo — such as scores, news, statistics, images, and live commentary — but presented in a way that makes best use of touch-enabled devices.”

One of the more interesting decisions the development team has made is to integrate a customised version of Facebook chat, which combines the Facebook and OpenGraph APIs with SMTP technology, into the app. This not only allows people to talk and share content from the site without having to leave the app, as long as they log in via Facebook, but also, in the return direction, gives ESPN a foothold into those people’s Facebook accounts.

Does that mean that the days of developers’ trying to set up their own social-media platforms are over?

“We are focused on working with the best available platforms, developers, and screens,” says Nair. “Beyond that, we have no further comment.”

The app is new enough that Nair doesn’t have any reliable usage statistics yet, but he does trot out some figures for mobile in general. “Again referring to the T20 World Cup, the most dynamic growth in audience and engagement for ESPNcricinfo since the 2010 tournament has come on mobile devices. Globally, on mobile devices, the brand saw 678% growth in total page views, to more than 445 million, and 981% growth in total minutes, to nearly 855 million minutes.”

This is why the app is already available for iOS and Android and has been very much in the first wave of products to launch in the wake of Windows 8, on which it uses the tiles of the new Metro-style interface to provide dynamically updated content. Progress is set to continue.

“We are currently in the process of designing the roadmap for enhancements to the iPad app, adding features such as offline reading,” says Nair.

After all, a 21st-century game —Twenty20 cricket was first played professionally in 2003 — needs 21st-century technology behind it.

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