CBS College Sports Enrolls New Affiliates


Leveraging various rights, CBS College Sports Network has buttressed its distribution lineup, inking a carriage pact with Verizon's FiOS TV and upgrading its positioning on systems owned by Comcast and Bright House Networks.

The deal with FiOS encompasses the rollout of the standard-definition CBS College Sports Network this year, ahead of the 2009 launch of an HD version, according to Bob Rose, executive vice president, distribution, CBS College Sports Network.

As to Comcast, CBS College Sports has launched on the operator's digital classic package in Atlanta, and Rose said the network will migrate there from sports tiers in Boston and Minneapolis by year-end.

Similarly, in the Sunshine State, CBS College Sports will move from tiers to Bright House Networks' digital-basic service in the central Florida/Orlando area and the Tampa DMA.

With the new deals, the network, which also recently signed pacts with Canada's Rogers Communications and Cogeco, will add 4 million customers to count 29 million subscribers overall in North America, network officials said. CBS College Sports is available to some 84 million homes on this continent.

Although he would not disclose license fees, Rose said each of the U.S. deals were forged in part through sublicensing some of the network's rights or those held by parent CBS Sports.

In Florida, Rose said CBS College Sports, from its Conference USA holdings, has afforded Bright House exclusive rights to produce and air select University of Central Florida college football games, men's and women's basketball and multiple UCF Olympic sports on Bright House Sports Network. BHN also gained VOD and broadband rights to UCF action.

Bright House Sports Network, which launched in September, can also air other Conference USA teams and Navy football contests.

“It's a very competitive landscape out there and operators are looking for advantages market by market,” said Rose. “Our ability to sub-license the rights to various leagues and related content is something that distributors want to differentiate their offerings.”

It's a strategy the network has deployed elsewhere. University of Rhode Island games, controlled through its Atlantic 10 rights, were assigned to Cox as part of CBS College's debut with the operator in that state. In Dallas, CBS College Sports traded production rights to 15 SMU (Conference USA) events as a fulcrum to help launch on Time Warner Cable in that DMA.

Rose said CBS College Sports has also made certain Atlantic 10 Conference rights available to Verizon as part of its FiOS package, but the telco has not yet opted to exploit them. Verizon, which was among the many distributors that ran the network’s "NCAA March Madness Highlights" VOD package last spring, has already rolled out the channel in Richmond and Norfolk, Va., and Silver Springs, Md., and Philadelphia, among other markets. All FiOS markets are scheduled to be lit by year-end, said Rose.

In markets where CBS College Sports doesn’t have conference connections, high school athletics could be a distribution ticket. Rose believes there are various carriage opportunities linked to video and other content from Max Preps, the nationwide online network linking high school athletes and sports that CBS acquired in March 2007 for the service then known at CSTV.

The gains on Comcast stem from a deal in which CBS Sports gave Golf Channel, which is part of the operator's programming group, rights to televise early-round action from a dozen tournaments on Saturdays and Sundays. In exchange, CBS College Sports benefited by launching in Atlanta and gaining improved positioning in Minneapolis and Beantown, which will also launch the HD service. Next year, that network will present 350 live events next year in the enhanced format, including about 60 in native HD.

Rose said as part of the Golf swing, Comcast would also launch CBS College Sports in another new market shortly.

“In this day, you really have to be creative with assets; you can't just buy carriage any more,” said Rose. “Fortunately, in this case, CBS Sports helped drive our business.”