ESPN2 is an American multinational pay television network owned by ESPN Inc., a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (which owns a controlling 80% stake) and the Hearst Communications (which owns the remaining 20%).
ESPN2 was initially formatted as a younger-skewing counterpart to its parent network ESPN, with a focus on sports popular among young adult audiences (ranging from mainstream events to other unconventional sports), and carrying a more informal and youthful presentation than the main network. By the late 1990s, this mandate was phased out, as the channel increasingly became a second outlet for ESPN's mainstream sports coverage.
As of September 2018, ESPN2 is available to approximately 86 million television households (93.2% of households with pay television) in the United States.
ESPN2 launched on October 1, 1993 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Its inaugural program was the premiere of SportsNight, a sports news program originally hosted by Keith Olbermann and Suzy Kolber; Olbermann opened the show by jokingly welcoming viewers to "the end of our careers." Launching with an estimated carriage of about 10 million homes, and nicknamed "The Deuce", ESPN2 aimed to be a more informal and youth-oriented channel than parent network ESPN, featuring a heavier emphasis on programming that would appeal to the demographic. The youthful image was also reflected in its overall presentation, which featured a graffiti-themed logo and on-air graphics.
Its initial lineup featured studio programs such as SportsNight—which host Keith Olbermann characterized as a "lighter" parallel to ESPN's SportsCenter that would still be "comprehensive, thorough and extremely skeptical", Talk2—a Jim Rome-hosted nightly talk show billed as an equivalent to CNN's Larry King Live, Max Out—an extreme sports anthology series carried over from ESPN, and SportsSmash—a five-minute recap of sports headlines which aired every half-hour. ESPN2 also featured several half-hour news programs focused on specific sports, such as NFL 2Night (football), NHL 2Night (hockey) and RPM 2Night (auto racing). Event coverage would focus on coverage of mainstream sports popular within the 18–34 age demographic, such as auto racing, college basketball and NHL hockey (which was branded as NHL Fire on Ice), while also covering atypical sports such as BMX and other extreme sports.
ESPN2 would also be used to showcase new technology and experimental means of broadcasting events: on September 18, 1994, ESPN2 simulcast CART's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix using only onboard camera feeds. In 1995, ESPN2 introduced the "BottomLine", a persistent news ticker which displayed sports news and scores. The BottomLine would later be adopted by ESPN itself and all of its future properties.