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 services, plus six regional channels and broadband service with even more games and content.
At launch, the services, in what is likely the largest commitment ever to new networks more than a year from their bow, 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 networks and the national service, within the conference's six-state footprint.
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," said Chris Bevilacqua, the lead media advisor to the Pac-12.
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 utilize 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 network, according to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, will feature 35 football games, 100 men's hoop games, 40 women's basketball 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 deliver 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 the Pac-12 signed with ESPN and Fox Sports in May for national rights. As such, all of the conference 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 executive vice president and chief programmer and chief content 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 sports unit and the 2012 launch of a pair of Los Angeles Lakers-centered RSNs.
Asked during the media call if the adoption of this structure, with commitments from the four MSOs on board well before launch, was the most profitable approach, Scott said there "wasn't as much pressure on the financial side," owing to the aforementioned national rights deal with ESPN and Fox. "The focus was what was best for the conference long-term."
That sentiment was underscored by University of California athletic director Sandy Barbour on the Berkeley website where it was noted that the rights fee from the new channels "will be completely dedicated to the production, infrastructure and personnel requirements of operating the network." Barbour's remarks then indicated that "the long-term financial benefit to Pac-12 institutions is unknown at this time and will be based on future distribution and advertising opportunities"
During the media conference call, Britt said "we are very excited about the multiple devices and broadband."
Responding to a query about pricing, he said there were "no answers" yet, but "stay tuned." Britt 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 deeply penetrated position with video providers within the Big 10 Conference's nine-state footprint, and lower pricing and often sports tier distribution in other areas around the country.
A spokesman for Cox said the MSO will "definitely offer Pac-12 in our California, Arizona and Las Vegas markets." He said a complete list of markets has not been finalized at this early stage. Noting that it has rights to the broadband service, the MSO has yet to make the call on whether it will be offered via Cox TV Online.
Lee Berke, principal of consultancy LHB Sports, Entertainment and Media, applauded the job done by Scott and the Pac-12, suspecting that "envious glances are being cast" from the Big Ten and SEC Conferences.
"The Pac-12 has done a great job of getting its first line of deals in place. It's certainly substantial distribution and great placement on expanded basic. It makes a lot of sense geographically with those cable operators," which he expects will benefit from license fee discounts as "charter affiliates. Naturally, you would think they will gain some protection on price."
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, before adding that "one of the real benefits of this agreement was the value of combing the passion for the Pac-12 in the local and regional markets together with the extensive sales and marketing assets of the cable industry".
With the network structure in place, Bevilacqua said Pac-12 Networks will now go about the business of building a media company. In Demand will play an integral role there.
"As we look to build a media operation, we will look to [In Demand] for services and infrastructure," said Bevilacqua. He noted that In Demand will help lend its expertise to among things, providing facilities, signal transport, transponders, uplink, and working with both live and non-live event production.
Pac-12 Networks, which will be headquartered alongside the conference in Walnut Creek, Calif., expects that key hires in various different disciplines will be announced within the next 30 days or so. The group will handle overall ad sales, with distributors maintaining local avails inventory.
Bevilacqua, who will work closely with the distribution team, said Pac-12 networks will establish a "strong affiliate and sales operations," which will be configured depending on "what our needs are."