SBJ/Dec. 20-26, 2010/This Week's Issue

Oklahoma deep in talks on planned channel

Oklahoma is getting a push from rival Texas,
which is close to a deal for a channel.

The school is targeting a launch date of next fall for an Oklahoma channel that will have a look and feel similar to what the University of Texas has proposed, according to sources with knowledge of the school’s plans.

The Sooners are working with Learfield Sports, their multimedia rights holder, and an outside media adviser on the channel. They have had discussions with Cox Communications, Fox Sports and ESPN about partnering on a channel.

Cox, which is the dominant cable operator in the state, and Fox, which already operates a regional sports network in the market — FS Oklahoma — are considered the front-runners.

While Texas has settled on a single partner in ESPN, it’s conceivable that Oklahoma could partner with both Cox and Fox — Cox as the distribution partner and Fox as the programming partner.

School officials say they have not settled on a financial model. Cox, Fox or both could be equity partners in a channel or they could pay a fee to the school and Learfield for the rights to create a channel.

“We are encouraged by the interest we have received and we’re making good progress,” said Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione. “We’re being diligent so that we can develop a product that can be sustained for the long term.”

At Texas, ESPN and Fox entered into a bidding war for the right to partner with the school and IMG College on a Longhorns TV network. Texas has entered into exclusive negotiations with ESPN as a partner, but that deal hasn’t closed yet.

Sources say ESPN’s bid to Texas was significantly more than Fox’s. ESPN is believed to be working on a 20-year deal that would pay Texas and IMG College close to $12.5 million a year.

If ESPN completes its deal with Texas, as expected, it puts pressure on Fox to cut a deal with Oklahoma. Both schools will be influential in determining the conference’s next TV deal, and both ESPN and Fox have expressed interest in cutting such a deal.

The league’s cable contract with Fox Sports Net expires after the 2011 football season, and its broadcast contract with ABC/ESPN expires after the 2015 season. Both networks plan to pursue the Big 12’s media rights.

As with Texas, an Oklahoma channel’s programming would carry one or two live football games, re-airs of archived games, Olympic sports, shoulder programming and coaches shows.

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