SBJ/March 12 - 18, 2007/This Weeks News

ESPNU signs carriage deal; passes 10 million subscriber mark

ESPNU cut its second significant carriage deal in the past three months last week when it signed an agreement with the country’s third-largest cable operator, Charter Communications.

In December, ESPNU signed a similar deal with the country’s fourth-largest multisystem operator, Cox Communications.

Originally, Charter has agreed to launch the network on its sports and information tier, where it will be paired with ESPNews. Deal terms have Charter committing to launch the network in half of its systems by the end of September, according to industry sources with knowledge of the deal

Eventually, as Charter repackages its digital tiers over the next year, ESPNU will be available on Charter’s most widely penetrated digital package, which ultimately will add about 3 million homes to ESPNU’s distribution.

These two deals will help push ESPNU past 10 million subscribers, according to Burke Magnus, ESPNU’s vice president and general manager.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision are the remaining top-five operators who do not have deals for ESPNU. Part of the problem stems from ESPNU’s reluctance to accept carriage on these operators’ sports tiers. Magnus said Cox and Charter’s sports and information tiers have much better distribution. Penetration for Cox’s sports and information tier is 30 percent, and Charter’s is similar to that. Other cable operators are seeing much smaller penetration levels with their strict sports tiers, Magnus said.

ESPNU has cut carriage deals with satellite operators DirecTV and EchoStar and cable operator Mediacom.

“I love the way we’re positioned with Charter,” Magnus said, pointing to the college-friendly Charter markets in the Southeast, such as ACC country in North Carolina and South Carolina and SEC country in Alabama and Tennessee.

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