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Thursday, November 09, 2006, 03:00 pm PT (06:00 pm ET)

Disney hints at streaming ESPN content to wireless iPods

Built-in wireless connectivity is an inevitable feature in the evolution of Apple Computer's iPod digital media players, and it appears that Walt Disney Co. could be ready and waiting to deliver some of its live ESPN content when the first wireless models arrive.

In a patent filing made last Nov. and published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, the entertainment conglomerate detailed plans for a ESPN-branded cell phone user interface that allows users to wirelessly receive ESPN video content, scores and other sports-related information in realtime.

Disney portrays the graphical user interface on an "exemplary electronic device" configured as a foldable, or "clam shell" style, web-enabled cellphone (which has since been released). However, it notes that the systems and methods described in the filing, titled "Graphical user interface for electronic devices," may also be used with electronic devices configured using a different hardware makeup.

"For example," the company wrote, "systems and methods of the present disclosure may be applied to other mobile electronic devices, such as PDAs, pagers, etc., and to other handheld electronic devices, such as, e.g., the iPod digital music player (available from Apple Computer, Inc.)."

Disney, whose largest individual shareholder just happens to be Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, has been working closely with the iPod maker on its digital media initiatives since the start of the year. In January, the firm announced that it would begin delivering a slew of ESPN and ABC programming to Apple's iTunes Store.

"Our mission is to serve fans wherever they are by delivering high-quality content across dozens of multi-media platforms, now including the iTunes Music Store and viewing on the iPod," George Bodenheimer, ESPN Sports President and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, said at the time. "We are thrilled to be the first content provider to offer sports content on iTunes."

Nine months later, Disney chief executive Robert Iger was the only representative from a major motion picture studio holding Jobs' hand as he unveiled Apple's push into the movie download market.

A personal friend of Jobs, Iger is likely as close to the Apple visionary's inner circle as one can get. And rumor has it the two have been working closely on Apple's real gambit into the world of major motion picture distribution, which will begin with the launch of its iTV device early next year.

For his part, Iger has already given iTV his endorsement. "I found it to be pretty compelling," he said after toying with a pre-production unit this past September. "I sat in a living room setting. It felt like a game changer to me in many respects. As a content provider, that was very exciting."

Just what the two are cooking up next is what remains to be seen.

Disney's patent for an ESPN-branded graphical user interface was first noted in a blog posting by MacNN's Neo.