With the kickoff of its ambitious seven-channel launch just a little more than two months away, Pac-12 Networks' is revealing bits and pieces of its rollout strategies.
Last week, Pac-12 Enterprises announced that InDemand will team with Comcast Media Center to provide an array of technical support, including expansive TV Everywhere and video-on-demand plans for Pac-12 Networks coming out of the gate. It also inked a deal with Ooyala to develop the Pac-12 Digital Network.
Gary Stevenson, president of Pac-12 Enterprises, also provided a time frame for its consumer marketing initiatives and its initial scheduling game plan.
The Pac-12 Conference, in an unprecedented push, will launch seven channels, a national feed, as well six regional networks mapping the conference footprint: in Northern California (Stanford and Cal); Southern California (USC and UCLA); Oregon (Oregon State and Oregon); Washington (Washington State and Washington); Arizona (Arizona State and Arizona); and Mountain (Utah and Colorado) areas. Content includes football, basketball and myriad Olympic sports that member schools are renowned for worldwide..
Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cox Communications, which together own InDemand, have all made distribution commitments to the TV services that together will total 40 million homes. An enhanced broadband offering is also being put into play.
Pac-12 Enterprises is the new content and multiplatform media company for the Pac-12 Conference, representing 12 universities that have captured a nation-leading 450 NCAA titles across 27 sports. It is the parent of Pac-12 Networks (TV) and Pac-12 Digital (online, social media)
Stevenson said senior vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Art Marquez and his current 11-member team have been engaged in conversations with distributors. "The response from distributors is that they love our content. We'll have 35 football and 140 basketball games and our conference is the best in Olympic sports," he said. "This year, conference members added eight more NCAA championships."
At this point, though, those talks have yet to yield any additional agreements. Stil, Stevenson replied "absolutely," when asked if other carriers would be on board when the networks debut in mid-August.
The Pac-12 Networks' distribution 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. "We might do better in some areas," said Stevenson, who would not discuss rate-card specifics.
However, sources indicate that Pac-12 Networks is seeking a monthly license fee of between 90 cents and $1 within conference markets, and as much as 50 cents in other areas.
Stevenson said that while Pac-12 Networks "over the next two months will be working on producing classic games and preview shows," its freshman year focus is "event-centric. We're going to have 850 live events. Plus we have re-air rights to the games that air nationally on Fox and ESPN, so there is going to be a lot of event focus."
He said that during the upcoming football season, Pac 12 Networks will have the top or second choice of games in seven of 13 weeks. The initial wave of football contests, Stevenson said on June 7, is expected to be announced over the next seven to 10 days, while details of the schedule for fall sports could be divulged on June 15.
Consumer marketing will begin to manifest at that time, "before ramping up as we approach August 15," he said.
Relative to TV Everywhere, InDemand president Bob Benya said there would be no staging of platform rollouts, that Pac-12 Networks from the outset would be "all in" on computers, tablets, connected TVs and smartphones whether on Apple or Android-based operating systems.
"No question it's ambitious," noted Stevenson. "We do expect a few bumps in the road, but it's important to make our services available to subscribers on all platforms."
Working with Ooyala, the Pac-12 Digital Network will enable subscribers of Pac-12 Network distributors to watch live content on connected devices via TV Everywhere authentication, when the services bow Aug. 15. According to the Pac-12, this will mark the first time such technology has been designed alongside the linear network experience at launch. Additionally, Pac-12 Enterprises and Ooyala are collaborating on a suite of applications for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones that each individual user can customize to create a personalized content experience, specific to their favorite Pac-12 teams, sports and related content -- including stats, press conferences and documentaries -- extending beyond the telecasts.
As to the conference's VOD plans, Benya expects it to be "one package, mostly the best of the national feed. We'll do the encoding and the 20 hours of free-on-demand will be refreshed every month."
In addition to VOD and TV Everywhere, InDemand and CMC, a subsidiary of Comcast Cable, will provide network distribution services. The infrastructure of the linear networks will be grounded through fiber connectivity between the Pac-12 studio in San Francisco, which will be completed on July 9, plus all 12 of its member universities and the CMC in Denver.
Moreover, master control origination services will run through CMC, while compression and satellite front-haul services, satellite receiver authorizations and disaster recovery will also be provided by the parties, which last year completed a rebuild of their new HD live-event environment and an MPEG-4 HD distribution platform.
"This fiber connectivity between the 12 schools, the state-of-the-art Pac-12 studio in San Francisco and the CMC is a technical structure that, I believe, is unique to the industry," said Benya, emphasizing that Pac-12 member institutions are very sophisticated relative to infrastructure and media acumen.
To that end, Stevenson said Pac-12 Networks will be drawing from student resources. "Cal is redoing its football stadium. When we cover a game, it makes sense to find out about the seismic shift in engineering and what the feeling/energy was on campus," he said.
Stevenson added that UCLA's music department will be helping with the networks' on-air music; that Arizona State has one of the top digital imaging libraries in the country; and that the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism would also be making contributions.
Benya said In Demand has worked with Comcast Media Center for 15 years on live sports and pay-per-view events, and that it has a dedicated team working at the facility in Denver. He said the technical alliance with the Pac-12 was in the works for a long time, but "the Is needed to be dotted and Ts crossed. There certainly is a lot prep work ahead."
Benya believes "working with the Pac-12 Networks is a natural extension of what we can do. We have a massive infrastructure that can provide reliable and quality services, more efficiently, for new and existing networks."
As InDemand -- which will hire additional staff in Denver -- readies for the multiplatform launch, it also continues to negotiate to offer more services.
"We're in deep discussions to provide other services to support the launch of the Pac-12 Networks," he said.