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Editor's note: The chart below is revised from the print edition.
ACC executives kept close tabs on Atlanta last Thursday, when rival conference SEC and ESPN announced their new network, scheduled to launch next year.
Thanks, in part, to a new grant-of-rights agreement from its 15 member schools that gives it a new level of security, ACC executives negotiated a new media rights deal with ESPN that conference executives say will be among the richest for all college conferences.
Now, ACC officials are turning their attention to launching their own league-branded network, joining the ranks of the Big Ten, Pac-12 and, now, SEC as conferences that own channels.
“We’ve got the strongest collegiate TV market in the country,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “We’re now in a position to accelerate talks with ESPN, which were already ongoing, about a network.”
The conference’s recent additions — Notre Dame, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse — plus the grant of rights “enhance those discussions,” Swofford added. Those moves caused ESPN to sweeten its rights offer for an all-in media deal that will average $260 million a year through 2026-27. There are other contractual elements, sources said, that could push the value higher, especially if the conference starts its own network.
If ESPN is now turning its attention to a possible ACC network, company President John Skipper wasn’t saying so at the SEC announcement in Atlanta. He refused to comment on any other conference partners, but that hasn’t stopped ACC administrators from beaming about their own potential.
This is the third version of the ACC’s deal with ESPN that started with the 2011-12 academic year. They first reopened negotiations in 2012 after the conference added Syracuse and Pittsbugh, and it was reopened again this year thanks to the addition of Notre Dame.
The ACC’s media rights deal with ESPN includes all game inventory, digital rights and corporate sponsorship. That, plus the security provided by the grant of rights, puts the ACC in a position of starting a network without having to buy back rights from third parties, as the SEC did with IMG College and Learfield Sports.
The ACC commissioned a study by Wasserman Media Group to determine whether the new conference footprint would support a network. Swofford said the ACC’s footprint along the Northeast and Southeast U.S. reaches 43 million TV households, more than other conferences.
“The grant of rights sets the table for us to have substantive conversations about a network,” said Clemson Athletic Director Dan Radakovich, who sits with Duke AD Kevin White and North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham on the ACC’s TV subcommittee.
“With the expansion we’ve had, our demographics, our financials and our projections are much more palatable,” Radakovich said. “The only thing holding us up is time. The SEC Network was three years in the making. Distribution, programming, legal, it all takes time.”
Media contracts are how conferences are measured these days, Radakovich said. “I don’t know why they need to be measured, but that has become a huge measure. Now we feel like the ACC can compete at the highest level.”
To that end, ACC sources highlighted the fact that the $260 million average places the 15-team ACC on more level ground with its peer conferences. Notre Dame, which has its own football contract with NBC, doesn’t share in the football revenue, leaving that part of the deal to be shared by 14 ACC schools.
The Pac-12’s deal at an average of $250 million per year is for a 12-team league. The Big 12 deal averages $200 million across 10 schools. The Big Ten’s media deal will be up for negotiation in the next three years.
The SEC has a new national media rights deal with ESPN, but terms of that contract — which runs through 2034 — were not available. That’s a separate contract that runs concurrently with the SEC Network contract. ESPN will own the SEC channel and will share profits 50-50 with the conference, industry sources said.
The length of the SEC’s contract with CBS did not change. It still runs through 2024.
The SEC Network, which launches in August 2014, will have 45 football games each season that will run in three windows. Those exact windows have not been established, but Justin Connolly, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming, said the windows will span early afternoon, late afternoon and evening.
The deal allows ESPN to schedule games against the CBS window at 3:30 p.m. CBS formerly had an exclusive window at that time.
Connolly will oversee the channel, which will be headquartered in Charlotte at the ESPN Regional Television studios. A sales hub will operate out of Atlanta. Connolly plans to move to Charlotte, and he’ll report to Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming.
The SEC’s TV package with CBS will not change. CBS, with its annual 14-game package, retains the first pick each week. That leaves about 90 football games annually, with half going to the SEC Network and the other half running on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU, lowering the number of SEC games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU from about 80 each season to 45.
Two SEC games per season will be played on Thursday nights.
Fox’s regional networks have a deal to buy a handful of games during the 2014 football season, but that deal expires after 2014.
ESPN plans to use the 45 football games on the SEC Network to help it drive distribution. Look for ESPN to program the channel with games involving teams in markets where it’s having problems getting carriage. The channel already has signed a carriage deal with AT&T U-verse, though it’s not known how much AT&T is paying for the channel. Comcast, Cox, DirecTV and Dish Network are the biggest distributors in the SEC’s markets.
“This is a national network,” said Skipper. “This is not a regional network.”
ESPNU is in about 75 million homes, and that’s the expectation for the SEC Network as well, Skipper said.
Neither side would say what the network will mean financially to SEC schools.
Current college television deals
CONFERENCE TERMS CONTRACT YEARS NETWORK(S) DEAL SIGNED ACC $3.6 billion/15 years 2011-12 through 2026-27 ESPN/ABC, ACC Network/Raycom May 2012 Note: Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame (except football) will join the ACC in July. Louisville is scheduled to join in 2014. AMERICAN ATHLETIC $130 million/7 years 2013-14 through 2019-20 ESPN/ABC February 2013 $4 million*/7 years 2014-15 through 2020-21 CBS Sports Network March 2013 Note: The conference’s 2013 roster of schools is Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, Southern Methodist, South Florida and Temple. East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa are scheduled to join in 2014, with Navy coming on board as a football-only member in 2015. BIG 12 $2.6 billion/13 years 2012-13 through 2024-25 Fox and ESPN/ABC joint venture September 2012 Note: ABC/ESPN and Fox share the league’s football inventory, while ABC/ESPN is the exclusive provider for men’s basketball. BIG EAST $500 million/12 years 2013-14 through 2024-25 Fox February 2013 Note: The non-football conference will assume the Big East Conference moniker and is scheduled to be made up of Butler, Creighton, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. BIG TEN $1 billion/10 years 2007-08 through 2016-17 ESPN/ABC June 2006 $72 million*/6 years 2011-12 through 2016-17 CBS Sports Network June 2011 $2.8 billion/25 years 2007-08 through 2031-32 Big Ten Network August 2006 Note: Maryland and Rutgers are scheduled to join the league in 2014. The Big Ten Network debuted in 2007. The conference and News Corp. jointly own the network and share expenses. CONFERENCE USA $42 million/5 years 2011-12 through 2015-16 Fox January 2011 $35 million/5-$37.5 million/5 years 2011-12 through 2015-16 CBS Sports Network January 2011 $22 million/5 years 2011-2015** ESPN January 2011 Note: North Carolina-Charlotte (except football), Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio and Old Dominion will join the conference in July. UNCC football and Western Kentucky are scheduled to join in 2014. MOUNTAIN WEST $116 million/7 years 2013-14 through 2019-20 CBS Sports Network/ESPN joint venture March 2013 Note: CBS Sports Network and ESPN will alternate game selections (after initial picks by CBS) in football and men’s basketball, with ESPN controlling the rights to Boise State home football games. CBS Sports Network retains the rights to Boise State road football games. San Jose State and Utah State are joining the conference in July. PAC-12 $3 billion/12 years 2011-12 through 2022-23 ESPN/ABC and Fox May 2011 Note: The Pac-12 Networks, which include a national network and six Western/Northwestern regional networks that are fully owned by the conference, launched in August 2012. SEC $2.25 billion/15 years 2009-10 through 2023-24 ESPN/ABC August 2008 $825 million/15 years 2009-10 through 2023-24 CBS Sports Network August 2008 Note: The ESPN-owned SEC Network is scheduled to launch in August 2014.
* Basketball only
** Football championship game only
Sources: Conference Form 990s filed with the IRS; conference officials
After spending the past 23 years writing USA Today’s influential sports TV column, Michael Hiestand is leaving the paper.
Late last month, several veteran USA Today sportswriters, including columnists Jon Saraceno and Mike Lopresti, told USA Today editors that they were accepting the buyout, which consists of two weeks of pay for every year worked at the paper up to a year. Last week, they made it official.
Hiestand’s last day at the newspaper will be Thursday.
“They came out with a buyout offer about six weeks ago,” Hiestand said. “In terms of last week, I pretty much decided by then. It wasn’t based on USA Today or any small details. I’m just ready to try new things.”
After taking a few weeks off, Hiestand plans to move from Washington, D.C., to New York and begin looking for work. He has twin daughters who will be starting college in the fall.
“I want to stay in reporting and writing,” he said. “I think what anybody in media brings to the party is the ability to do some reporting and telling people something they didn’t know or talking to people, as opposed to just writing down your opinion.”
Hiestand started writing the paper’s TV column in 1990, and he described journalism today as more rooted in technology — including posting items to the Internet quickly — than gumshoe reporting, but he predicted that would soon change.
“Right now, we’re in a phase where we’ll look back and think that it was all about the technology, centered on how quickly you can get a URL up so that if somebody Googles a topic, your story will be one of the first ones that comes up,” he said. “I think media networks are going to have to be more aggressive about getting their own stories out in an interesting and factual way.”
The move comes about a year after USA Today let go of 15 staffers, including writers Michael McCarthy, Tom Weir, Tom Pedulla and Mike Dodd. In 2011, USA Today hired sports business veteran Tom Beusse to run the Sports Media Group and Dave Morgan to oversee editorial. It placed more focus on breaking news and developing the paper’s digital offerings.
Nobody is ready to call it a failure just yet. But network executives have not been shy in expressing frustration with the slow pace of adoption for the concept, which essentially allows subscribers to stream TV channels to any device.
The cable industry has been talking about this concept for four years or more. Cable operators viewed TV Everywhere as an enticement to keep subscribers from cutting the cord — only authenticated cable subscribers would have access to TV Everywhere streams.
By 2013, watching cable channels on iPhones was supposed to be as easy as watching them on big-screen TVs.
TV Everywhere works well with big events, like the London Olympics and NCAA tournament, both of which reported gaudy statistics.
Usage outside of those big live events, however, has remained low, though nobody’s releasing specific statistics. Fewer people than expected are streaming channels like ESPN and CNN to their broadband and mobile devices. Media executives are pointing their fingers at distributors, saying the log-in process — called “authentication” or “verification” — still is way too cumbersome. Comcast subscribers, for example, need to know their Comcast ID to log in to TV Everywhere. How many cable subscribers know their cable ID? I don’t.
“We need to do a better job across the board with authentication and really allow people to have the experience they have at home with other devices,” Fox Sports co-President Randy Freer said at last month’s World Congress of Sports.
Still, Freer and other sports media executives believe in the concept. For the past five years, networks have demanded that TV Everywhere rights be part of all media rights deals they cut with leagues and conferences.
In turn, TV Everywhere is part of networks’ carriage deals with distributors, who believe that controlling online and mobile video streams is the best way to protect their business. That’s where the problems occur. Each distributor has a different authentication process, none of which are easy to navigate. That’s the bottleneck that has to get easier.
“The idea of authenticating and getting used to it is going to take some time,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus at the same event. “The barrier to making it easy and part of your daily routine hasn’t been crossed yet.”
The notion of ubiquitous TV Everywhere adoption always being a few years away takes me back to the mid-1990s, when TV executives talked about interactive TV — the promise of being able to order a pizza from your TV set — as being two years away. That was the problem. For several years, it was always two years away.
I called one of TV Everywhere’s biggest proponents, ESPN’s John Kosner, to ask what makes TV Everywhere different. Kosner, who has run ESPN’s digital business for 10 years, acknowledged that TV Everywhere adoption is moving slowly, something he also blamed on authentication problems. But he continues to preach patience, predicting that TV Everywhere adoption will happen quickly and authentication will be a non-issue in a couple of years.
“It’s hamstrung for the moment by the difficulty of authenticating,” Kosner said. “We’re tied into whoever provides your video subscription. And the process is, at the moment, clunkier than it should be. But it’s getting better.”
Kosner described an authentication process that eventually will become so easy that it won’t be a process at all. It will just happen because the TV Everywhere provider automatically will recognize the user and the device he’s using.
“It’s going to be invisible to you,” Kosner said.
When that occurs, Kosner — and others — are convinced that the popularity of TV Everywhere will explode. As tablets and handheld devices continue to become more powerful, they will become even more of an option for consumers to watch video.
“Ten years from now, fans are just going to think about screens,” Kosner said. “And the screens will be of all different sizes and they’ll have different contexts. And you’ll be able to get personalized feeds in multimedia on the side of your fridge, on your wall, in your pocket, on your watch or on your glasses.”
It’s too early to call TV Everywhere a bust. But if the promise of simpler authentication doesn’t happen quickly, it may become the media industry’s Ford Edsel.
John Ourand can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.