Cable Operators

Pac-12 Looks to Score With Seven Networks

8/01/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

The Pac-12 Conference is looking for a
touchdown and a two-point conversion as it jumps into
the network game before the kickoff of the 2012-13 academic
year.

In an unprecedented network
blitz, the conference, working
with Time Warner Cable, Comcast,
Cox Communications and Bright
House Networks, said it will launch
a national service, plus six regional
channels and broadband services
with even more games and content.

At launch, the services, in what
is likely the largest commitment
ever to new services more than a
year from its debut, will reach more
40 million households through the
four cable operators. The networks
will also seek carriage via satellite
and telco video distributors.

The Pac-12 Networks’ positioning
game plan calls for expanded basic
carriage within the home markets for the six RSNs, and
digital basic positioning for those services and the national
network within the conference’s six-state footprint,
Chris Bevilacqua, the lead media adviser to the Pac-12,
said.

Beyond the conference territory, the Pac-12 will be
looking for carriage for all seven services, perhaps on
sports tiers or their carriage equivalent. “We’ll certainly
be pursuing significant out-of-state footprint distribution
with all of our affiliate agreements,” Bevilacqua said.

The Pac-12 Networks’ playbook also encompasses
“TV Everywhere” rights, permitting the networks to be
viewed outside customers’ homes on various digital devices,
including smartphones and tablet
computers.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

The four cable operators will also
use their content aggregator, In Demand,
to provide certain production
and operations services to the Pac-12
Networks, which will continue to be
wholly owned by the Pac-12 Conference.

As part of its 350-event schedule, the
national Pac-12 Network, according
to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott,
will feature 35 football games, 100
men’s basketball games, 40 women’s
hoops contests, a dozen spring football
games and 150 Olympic sports
events, including conference championship
matchups. All of those events will air on the
RSNs, which will deliver another 500 competitions. At
launch, the broadband service will encompass another
500 events, a total that will grow over time.

The multi-network gambit comes hard on the cleats of
the $3 billion, 12-year national TV-rights deal the Pac-12
signed with ESPN and Fox Sports in May. As such, all of
the conference’s football and men’s basketball games will
be presented on television.

Scott announced the media formation at a hastily convened
press conference on July 27 in New York, which was
also attended by Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO
Glenn Britt and chief programming officer Melinda Witmer.

Scott, who called the establishment of this model a
“herculean effort” by the four cable companies, credited
its hyper-local formation as Witmer’s “brainchild.”

Time Warner Cable has been bulking up its sports
operation with the establishment of a dedicated
unit and the 2012 launch of a pair of Los Angeles Lakers-centered
RSNs.

During a media conference call, Britt, responding to
a query about pricing, said there were “no answers” yet,
but “stay tuned.” He added there would likely be “different
costs in Los Angeles than in Ohio.”

Those comments echoed the pricing schematic employed
by BTN, which commands higher license fees and
a more deeply penetrated position with video providers
within the Big Ten Conference’s nine-state footprint, and
lower pricing and often sports-tier distribution in other
areas around the country.

Bevilacqua, while noting that the Pac-12 wants “ubiquitous
distribution” and that subsequent affiliates will gain
the same “TV Everywhere” rights, said the charter cable
companies will benefit from deep marketing and brand
association with the Pac-12 over the 12-year agreement.

“We expect that you’ll see [the operators] work on some
very extensive marketing packages within their regions,”
Bevilacqua said.

March