SBD/May 30, 2013/Media

ESPN's Connolly Feeling "Really Good" About Ongoing Development Of SEC Network

ESPN Senior VP/Programming Justin Connolly, who is overseeing the development of the SEC Network, yesterday said network execs "feel really good about where we are right now" ahead of the station's August '14 launch, according to Scott Rabalais of the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE. AT&T U-Verse has already signed a carriage deal, and Connolly said, "We’re in conversations with what I would call the top-10 distributors. These are long conversations, and they take a long time, but our launch isn’t imminent." He added, "We have three or four tent poles. One is distribution. Two is programming. We have a lot of work to do with athletic directors, (senior women’s administrators) and coaches to create live event windows. We will have 8,700 hours here. The last piece is digital. We will take over oversight of the SEC website. To take that to a new level, it will have to be an extension of the network, with rich video, timely and accurate scores and data. It will be one front door, along with WatchESPN." Connolly said of the net hiring Paul Finebaum, whose radio show will be simulcast on the net, "We certainly provided a heads up to the SEC that we were going to make this move. ... Paul brings some appointment TV, some 'wow' factor." He added of the net, "We don’t want this to be ESPN4 or the 'Ocho.' We want this to be the SEC Network" (Baton Rouge ADVOCATE, 5/30). Connolly said of the SEC Network's appeal to carriers, "If you look at it, out of the decision factors that went into AT&T Uverse coming aboard, 90 percent of their customers watched one SEC football game. Over 50 percent watched 10 or more. That's pretty incredible when you talk about the Birmingham fan base and the fan base generally speaking" (NOLA.com, 5/29).

CAMPUS VISITS: In Florida, Robbie Andreu notes ESPN this summer is going to be visiting the 14 SEC schools "to determine what upgrades need to be made to accommodate what the network plans to do." Florida AD Jeremy Foley said, "We just built a brand new video control room, so Florida right now is good. We've pulled a bunch of wire and cable, and how it all works, I have no idea. But I know our situation is all (good) right now." He added network execs are going to "see what they have and what we need to do and how they can help us." Foley: "Those folks know what they're doing and they'll make sure the production facilities on each campus are what they need to be because this is going to be a big-time network and what people see and how they perceive it is going to be very, very important" (GAINESVILLE SUN, 5/30).

THE OLD COLLEGE TRY: AT&T President of Content & Advertising Sales Jeff Weber cited the company's "decision not to carry Comcast SportsNet Houston" as a reason why it did decide to carry the SEC Network. Weber, regarding CSN Houston, said that it is "very clear that the viewership in that particular market was low," based on AT&T's measurement data. He added that viewership for college sports by contrast was "dramatically higher, which is why AT&T agreed to distribute" the net (CABLEFAX DAILY, 5/30).

NINE LIVES: CBSSPORTS.com's Dennis Dodd reported SEC football coaches yesterday voted 13-1 "in favor of keeping an eight-game conference schedule," but the prospect of a nine-game schedule "makes too much sense in terms of inventory for the SEC Network and positioning in the playoff era." The coaches' vote "essentially is nothing more than a straw poll," as when TV and revenue are involved, "their opinions matter little" (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/29). Florida coach Will Muschamp said, "My personal opinion (is) you create an SEC Network, at the end of the day, it's going to be driven by the dollar, and having those games is going to be important, and having enough quality games on television promoting a nine-game SEC regular season, in my opinion, will eventually happen" (ESPN.com, 5/29).
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