ESPN has a few new video tricks to get users to stay in its app

For ESPN, getting users to watch video on its mobile app is a pretty big deal. But the sports media giant thinks it can serve you video in a way that doesn’t prevent you from accessing other content on the app — and in doing so, getting you to stick around longer.

Last week, ESPN rolled out an update that included portrait view for live video and a new product called “live cards.” Portrait view is pretty straightforward: Users can watch a video or live stream within the app without having to tilt their mobile devices. (Live video, which includes the full linear streams of ESPN’s cable channels as well as thousands of sporting events that it does not put on TV, still requires users to authenticate their TV subscriptions.)

A “live card” under a live stream in the ESPN app.

It’s what’s underneath the video in portrait view — the new live cards product — that could help increase usage of the app. Existing as a feed of content underneath videos in portrait mode, live cards are designed to feed content that’s relevant to the user. This includes social posts and news items related to the live streams (say an injury update from the game you’re watching) as well as articles based on your favorite leagues, teams and topics. Live cards also include real-time stats for other games that might be taking place at the time. (At launch, this capability will be available for NFL, college football, NBA and men’s and women’s college basketball games.)

Previously, if users wanted to watch a live stream on the ESPN app, it would automatically play that content in landscape mode. With mobile phones getting bigger screen sizes, landscape mode isn’t as crucial as it used to be, said Ryan Spoon, svp of digital product management for ESPN. Soon, ESPN app users will also be able to “dock” videos on the bottom of the screen and navigate the rest of the app.

“So much of the last year has been about, ‘How do we make the best experience of everything ESPN Digital does in one app?’” said Spoon. “We obviously have the scores and news, but now we can make it more relevant and personalize it to you, and allow you to watch our networks and events and other video, or our live audio programming and podcasts.”

All of this is with the intent of getting people to stick around longer on the ESPN app, which was already the top app in comScore’s sports category with 15.6 million unique visitors in October. It was also second in the category in terms of time spent, hitting 1.4 billion total minutes during the month, according to the measurement firm.

While the recent changes focus on live video across the app, ESPN plans to continue developing the live cards product with an eye toward increasing usage. Right now, each live cards correspondents with a single piece of content. That’s likely to change as ESPN experiments with creating cards based on topics that can feature articles, videos, images and other content that makes sense for that topic.

“We want to give people more ways to view content,” Spoon said. “To get you to return more, consume more and spend more time.”

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