SBD/April 6, 2012/Media

The Mtn Going Dark May 31 As Mountain West Nears Deal With CBS Sports Network

The cable channel created for the Mountain West Conference -- the Mtn -- is shutting down and will go dark May 31, sources said. The channel's 44 employees were informed of the decision late Thursday afternoon during a meeting at their Denver HQs. Sources indicate that CBS Sports Network and the MWC are close to finalizing a deal for the conference's rights that will wind up increasing national distribution for the league's upcoming football and basketball games. CBS Sports Network is in around 45 million homes. Jointly owned by CBS Sports Network and NBC Universal, the Mtn is in around 13 million homes. Employees were told Thursday that they would get a severance package and will be given priority for open jobs at NBC Sports’ RSNs. The Mtn launched in ‘06 as the first cable channel devoted to a single college conference. Over the years, the channel provided exposure for the conference, producing 38,000 hours of coverage in total. The moves make sense given the uncertainty surrounding the MWC, which is forming some sort of business alliance with Conference USA. Plus, some of the conference's premiere teams -- such as BYU, Utah and TCU -- have left the conference over the past few years (John Ourand, THE DAILY). A source said, “It’s important to realize it’s not the same conference we signed up for in 2006. Teams have left. Some teams are leaving. We’re still trying to find out what this conference is going to look like a year from now. It’s kind of hard to do business when you don’t know what the product is in front of you” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 4/6). In Las Vegas, Mark Anderson notes distribution issues “cropped up from the beginning” for the Mtn. There also were “complaints about games not being available to a wider audience, but The Mtn. was intended to be more of a regional carrier for games not picked up nationally” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 4/6).

NEW CHALLENGES: In Colorado Springs, Frank Schwab writes the Mtn's demise “leaves open the possibility that not every Air Force football game will be televised in 2012.” There will almost “assuredly be a steep decline in the number of televised Air Force men’s basketball games next season.” There likely will be an "unselected inventory of games, considering The mtn. broadcast 30 football games last year.” MWC schools will “likely be able to shop the rights to their unselected home games.” For all of the network’s issues, “such as low distribution fueled by the inability to get on all major cable providers, it did provide an outlet for many live games in all sports to be televised” (Colorado Springs GAZETTE, 4/6). Univ. of Wyoming AD Tom Burman said, “It’s not a complete shocker; we knew these negotiations were occurring.” He added, “We hope there will be some sort of platform for us to have some sort of regional television network going forward. But there are no guarantees.” Burman: “Each of the schools will go out and negotiate their own TV deals for anything that’s not picked up by the other television partners if they want to. Obviously, that’s a little more difficult for us in our market. We’ve got to put our heads together, but we’re ahead of this a little bit” (CASPER STAR-TRIBUNE, 4/6).

HAWAIIAN PUNCH: In Honolulu, Ferd Lewis writes the end of the network is “possibly opening a door for the University of Hawaii to keep its lucrative pay-per-view operations for the 2012 football season.” The Mtn’s “historical reluctance to relinquish local TV rights had been [a] point of contention with MWC members over the years and was viewed as a major road block to UH continuing to sell its pay-per-view TV package locally once it joins the MWC July 1.” UH receives “an average of about  $2.5 million a year through its local TV and PPV rights” (HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER, 4/6).
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