SBJ/April 29-May 5, 2013/Colleges

Murphy-Stephans takes wide view at Pac-12

Lydia Murphy-Stephans has worked on nearly every facet of the Pac-12 Networks since she arrived as general manager 18 months ago — except for distribution.

Now, that aspect of the job — getting her networks picked up by as many cable, satellite and telecommunications operators as possible — has emerged as the most important job for the 25-year TV industry veteran.

When Gary Stevenson resigned last week as president of Pac-12 Enterprises (the umbrella name for the TV networks and related digital and sales business), Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott hardly blinked before promoting Murphy-Stephans. She now carries the title of president for Pac-12 Networks. Digital and sales will flow up to her as well.

The move puts distribution of Pac-12 Networks front and center on Murphy-Stephans’ plate. She said she will work closely with Art Marquez, senior vice president of affiliate relations, to break the impasse that has seen some of the country’s top distributors turn down deals to carry the network, including DirecTV and AT&T.

Just three days into her new job, Murphy-Stephans said she’d already reached out to some of the operators at the top of her hit list. “AT&T U-verse, Verizon, Charter, Cablevision,” she rattled off. “The goal is to get the widest distribution we can for our fan base. … We’re West Coast-based, but I don’t think of our fan base as being West Coast. I think of ourselves as a national company with potential global distribution.”

The focus on distribution is not unique for new networks like the Pac-12, which launched last year. Stevenson said distribution was a main focus last year and predicted it would continue to be, but he also pointed to deals with three top cable operators (Time Warner Cable, Cox and Comcast) and with Dish Network as evidence the network is progressing.

“It is at or ahead of the pace with every other network that has launched since 2000,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson pointed to the bruising distribution battles Big Ten Network had in its first two years and that NFL Network had up until last year. Some networks, like MLB Network, had more robust distribution at launch.

Stevenson said he decided to leave once he had the channels up and running. He met with Scott upon returning from a trip to the Masters and told him, “I’m more of a builder and a launcher than a caretaker.”

Scott wasn’t surprised.

“When Gary came in, he was most attracted by the ambitious challenge of building something from scratch,” Scott said. “One of his great traits is that he won’t shy away from big challenges. Now that we’re a year into it, I wasn’t completely surprised by his decision. I think it was a question of when, not if.”

Stevenson said he has no immediate plans but expects to continue in the sports media and marketing sectors.
As for Murphy-Stephans, she was Stevenson’s first hire, in November 2011, as he assembled the team that launched a national network and six regional networks in 51 weeks.

Because of how closely Murphy-Stephans worked with Stevenson, Scott expects a seamless transition in leadership. He used the timing to create a new reporting structure, so Stevenson’s exact title as president of Pac-12 Enterprises will go away. Murphy-Stephans will oversee the network business, while legal, finance, human resources, IT and marketing — units that used to be contained in Enterprises — will now report to those division heads at the conference office.

“We had a hyper-aggressive timetable to get launched, so Gary had every function reporting to him,” Scott said. “Now that we’re through launch mode and into more of a long-term phase, this will be our structure and how we’re most efficient.”

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