SBJ/August 22-28, 2011/In Depth

BYUtv uses sports to move into the spotlight

The highly anticipated Longhorn Network will launch this week with all of the pomp and promotion that ESPN and the University of Texas can put behind it.
 
With far less fanfare nationally, BYUtv, another university-branded network, will begin its 12th year of covering sports at Brigham Young and it will be doing it on a much larger scale than it ever has. While BYUtv, a nonprofit, educational channel, never intended to become a regional sports network, it is moving in that direction as a way of supporting BYU now that the school has moved out of the Mountain West Conference and into independent status in football.

While a new broadcast agreement with ESPN was critical to BYU’s independence in football, the move never would have happened without BYUtv, which will broadcast 130 live BYU sporting events in the 2011-12 year. That’s nearly five times more live broadcasts than the network has attempted in the past.

MARK PHILBRICK
BYU sports will account for more than a third of the network’s programming.
It’s just that, until now, few people knew much about BYUtv, a faith- and family-focused network started in 2000 and owned completely by the university. The network is available to nearly 60 million U.S. households as a free educational channel. As such, it doesn’t sell traditional advertising, but it does accept sponsorships and underwriting grants to support its programming. BYUtv doesn’t release actual viewership numbers.

“Having BYUtv really pushed us to the decision to go independent in football,” said Tom Holmoe, BYU’s athletic director and a staunch critic of the Mountain West’s media arrangements with the conference’s own channel, The mtn., and CBS College because they didn’t provide enough visibility.

“We’ve been broadcasting Olympic sports on BYUtv for years and we knew exactly what we had there,” Holmoe said. “We knew all of the potential that was sitting there. We would never have even thought about going independent without it.”

Beginning this season, BYUtv will begin looking much more like a sports channel. Its programming mix, which in the past included less than 10 percent sports, will jump to 34 percent sports. Other programming includes cooking shows, documentaries, BYU-related academic news and lectures, and faith-based shows that focus on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors the school.

Even before the transition to more sports, BYUtv’s lineup has been strong enough to establish distribution that includes DirecTV, Dish Network and close to 500 cable systems.

The school isn’t sure how many more homes throughout Latin America receive BYUtv International, but it’s significant enough that many of BYU’s live events will be broadcast in English, Spanish and Portuguese to more than 100 countries.
BYUtv’s sports programming in years past has been limited to about 30 live Olympic sports events a year and replays of old football and basketball games.

The rights to football game replays were difficult to acquire because the Mountain West made the waiting period
MARK PHILBRICK
sometimes as long as a year before games could be re-aired. BYUtv is negotiating with Collegiate Images, a division of XOS Digital, to buy the rights to re-air BYU’s football games from its Mountain West days. Collegiate Images is the rights holder for the conference.

This season, BYUtv will carry one live football game, 10 to 15 men’s basketball games and close to 130 live Olympic sports games. New shoulder programming will include pregame and postgame shows around the football games, even the ones carried by ESPN, and “Legends,” a show that features archived games. “True Blue,” a weekly sports magazine show, is moving from Wednesday night to Monday night.

The number of live football games could increase in future years. ESPN’s rights deal with BYU calls for the network to carry a minimum of three live football games on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC, and another on ESPNU. This season, ESPN is carrying all but one, the Idaho State game, which will go live on BYUtv. The school’s channel has the rights to any game ESPN doesn’t pick up.

BYUtv also struck a deal with ESPN that will allow it to rebroadcast football games immediately after they’ve been aired. And ESPN contributed more than 100 archived BYU games to BYUtv’s library.

In all, BYU sports will account for more than a third of the programming for the network, and that percentage is expected to grow.

“We’re looking at sports being the foundation for everything we want to accomplish,” said Keith Willes, director of marketing for BYU Broadcasting, which includes TV, digital and a radio channel that’s carried on Sirius/XM. “That includes an expanded reach, more eyes on the station and introducing a new viewership to other content. This is a big opportunity for us to bring more exposure to the network and to the university.”

The channel’s content is available as part of a mobile app that BYU released this summer that’s free for viewers.
The network, in addition, plans by the end of August to launch a new website, BYUtvSports.com, which will carry the channel’s programming and other features as an online complement to BYUtv.

“We feel like we’re giving people an all-access pass to BYU sports, any time, any place they want to access it,” Willes said. “And for us, this is only the beginning. There also will be a video-on-demand capability, as well. This is all about exposure for the university, and exposure for the athletic program and football team.”

While owned by the university, BYUtv keeps its own budget. The network is sharing the costs with BYU’s athletic department for all of the new sports programming.

Much of the additional costs are wrapped into the production work that will be required in broadcasting nearly five times as many live events as last year. BYU has the rights to its home events, but Holmoe said the school also is looking into broadcasting Olympic sports events away from home, especially against opponents in BYU’s new home for non-football competition, the West Coast Conference.

Holmoe also is leading the charge to wire BYU’s sports venues for live broadcasts, which will enable the school to air more than one game at a time. In the case of multiple home events at the same time, one game will go to TV and the others will be streamed online.

“BYUtv is not a money tree,” Holmoe said. “There are going to be a lot of costs going forward. We have an agreement between the athletic department and BYUtv on what we’ll do and what they’ll do. We don’t talk about the numbers, but as we move forward, we’ll do more. For now, we’re going to be pretty cautious and try to be as efficient as possible.”
Holmoe wants to get to the point where anytime a BYU team is playing, it’s available on TV, a mobile handheld device or the computer.

“We’ve got to walk before we run, but we’re pretty giddy about the possibilities,” he said.

 
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