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SBJ/December 13-18, 2010/Colleges
Pac-10 targets 2012 for launch of cable channel
Published December 13, 2010
The comments from Scott, armed with nearly a year of analysis, are his strongest statements to date on the prospects of a Pac-10 channel.
“We are very far advanced in our development of a business plan,” Scott told SportsBusiness Journal. “It’s something that is a high priority for us, and there’s a strong likelihood that we will [launch a conference channel].”
Scott previously has described a channel as a “viable option.” But with the conference’s media rights negotiations set to start next year, prospective bidders are expecting to craft their bids around a channel.
The Pac-10 has an exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and Fox over the first four months of the year for its media rights. Comcast also has expressed interest in picking up the rights. All three have partnered with other entities on a channel in the past.
“Now that we’re on the verge of starting our negotiation process, I’m that much more convinced [that the Pac-10 can successfully launch a channel] because we’ve done the analysis and we’ve got the business plan,” Scott said.
Scott said he’s had extensive talks with media executives at the NFL and NBA to find out about launching a channel. He said he’s been in close contact with cable operators. He’s also been studying the Big Ten Network, which many in college sports view as a success.
“If we do a channel, you’ll see us have more premium content on it than the Big Ten has,” Scott said, referring to high-profile games. “If we do it, we’re going to do it in a big way. We’ll have a serious commitment to the production values and the whole lifestyle of the West Coast.”
Scott said the programming schedule would be filled out through 2,700 live events from the conference. Schools would be expected to contribute all of their third-tier TV rights, the ones not picked up by the conference’s broadcast and cable partners. That includes any games not picked up by those main network partners.
Schools also would be expected to surrender their digital video rights to the channel.
Several industry executives, however, suggested that the Big Ten Network model is not as easy as it seems. The network launched in August 2007.
“People forget the severe discomfort the Big Ten went through to get up and running,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming, speaking last week in New York on a panel at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, hosted by SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily. “I’m not suggesting that [conference channels] can’t succeed, but there are a lot of factors involved. The Big Ten Channel’s timing was immaculate.”
Fox Sports Net President Randy Freer pointed to the Big Ten Network’s distribution difficulties, adding that a lot of conferences wouldn’t have the stomach for those kinds of carriage battles.
“The two easiest things to do in media is to announce that you’re launching a channel and to put together a spreadsheet showing why it makes sense,” Freer told conference attendees. “The hard part is to execute it.”
In negotiating the ACC’s rights deal earlier this year, IMG’s Barry Frank said that ACC executives quickly decided they didn’t want to launch a channel, especially after they realized it would take a channel five years to break even because of production and startup costs.
“The ACC didn’t have an angel to put up the money,” Frank said, speaking at the conference.
Underscoring the difficulties of launching new conference channels, Dish Network’s Tom Cullen told conference attendees that his company would take a long, hard look at future launches.
“We’re the value provider in our industry and we’re not afraid to not carry a channel,” said Cullen, executive vice president of sales, marketing and programming. “We don’t have YES [Network], and that’s been a very unpopular thing. We don’t have The mtn. We have to be selective. … In the early days of this, we had more capacity than content. That’s not the case anymore.”
Staff writer Michael Smith contributed to this story.