ESPN May Squeeze Into Video iPods

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Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN cable sports network is looking into distributing some of its television programs on Apple's iTunes music and video service, possibly joining its corporate cousin in a landmark deal, ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer said on Monday.

Although ESPN has not held talks with Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL) yet, the top-rated cable sports network plans to offer its diet of original shows and game clips to "any pipe, any device," Bodenheimer said at the UBS global media conference.

"We're not just in the TV business anymore ... We're going to the table as a sports media company," Bodenheimer said.

ESPN could join Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) ABC television networks, which announced a deal a few weeks ago to offer recently broadcasted episodes of hit shows "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" for $1.99 per episode on Apple's service.

The deal ignited a fresh round of distribution deal making, leading to recent announcement of deals including one between General Electric's (GE) NBC and DirecTV Group Inc. (DTV)

ESPN earlier had announced plans to launch a cellphone service under its own brand, called Mobile ESPN, by leasing space on Sprint Nextel's (S) cellphone network.

Phones bearing the ESPN brand name will hit Best Buy (BBY) stores by next February, Bodenheimer said.

The company was also one of the earlier media companies to launch a full-fledged high-speed Internet video programming services, ESPN 360.

More distribution deals and the creation of new products could boost profit growth to an average "double digits" percentage through 2009.

"We're comfortable, very comfortable, with double digits growth," Bodenheimer said.

Separately, Bodenheimer confirmed ESPN was in discussions for a broadcast rights agreement with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

"We may be fortunate enough to get NASCAR," Bodenheimer said.

Walt Disney shares closed up 13 cents at $25.01 on the New York Stock Exchange.