We Have Liftoff: Carriage Still An Issue At Longhorn Network Launch
The Longhorn Network launches Friday evening, but "barring last-minute deals with cable or satellite providers, it's possible University of Texas fans nationwide won't be able to tune in," according to Gary Dinges of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN. As of late Thursday, only Verizon FiOS had "signed up to carry the cable channel," and that contract does not "take effect until Sept. 1." LHN execs said that they are "confident additional deals will be announced soon -- perhaps even before" Friday's debut broadcast. LHN VP/Production Stephanie Druley said, "I would just tell people be patient. This is what happens. I know people are probably tired of hearing that, but it's the truth." While FiOS service "is available in North Texas, Central Texans are out of luck." LHN on its website is "encouraging UT fans to call or email AT&T and Time Warner Cable, asking them to follow Verizon's lead." Reports have indicated that ESPN wants "30 to 40 cents per subscriber per month" for LHN. Dinges notes, "Fledgling networks such as the Longhorn Network face an uphill battle when asking for cash because, unlike established channels, they don't yet have measurable audiences that help providers evaluate their worth" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 8/26). DirecTV said that it "has talked to ESPN about carriage of LHN but has no plans to add the net." A DirecTV official said, "We understand Longhorn has other programming that may be of value to a small segment of our customers, but two UT football games do not constitute a network. Given the dynamic situation in college football conferences today, we'll wait and see how it all shakes out before we decide what we will or won't carry" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 8/26).
IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME? In Houston, David Barron notes ESPN "declined to estimate in how many households Longhorn Network will be available when it signs on" Friday, but it probably will be "no more than a few thousand households nationwide." UT women's AD & Dir of External Services Chris Plonsky said, "We're not purposely trying to starve people from coverage. But as I told (a student-athlete), if you want to have a network, you can't give it away." Media reports this week indicated that an agreement "was imminent with Grande Communications, which has about 140,000 customers in smaller systems along the Interstate 35 corridor, including Austin." But that deal "had not been announced as of Thursday" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 8/26). ORANGEBLOODS.com's Geoff Ketchum noted ESPN VP/Programming & Acquisition Dave Brown appeared on Austin's KTXX-FM Thursday afternoon, and he "couldn't give any clues as to whether a single provider will be available" when the net launches. Brown said that he "absolutely understands the pre-game jitters that Longhorn fans are having with the idea of not just missing [the] launch, but the season-opener against Rice on September 3." He said, "Nobody wants to get this done faster than all of us here at University Park. We've got to just let these things work out." Ketchum noted Brown "doesn't believe for a second that there's any egg on ESPN or UT in the wake of the network's current position, with regard to a lack of known carriers and so many existing questions." Brown: "No embarrassment at all. ... When everyone sees our product when we roll it out here, we'll have a really strong product offering that will be terrific for Texas fans everywhere" (ORANGEBLOODS.com, 8/25).
WE ARE ALL WITNESSES? In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes, "We're just not sure who, if anyone, will bear witness to the first channel devoted to a single school." What ESPN "stands to gain by its 20-year deal that pays the university $300 million remains to be seen, assuming someone sees it before the Longhorns open the season Sept. 3 against Rice" on LHN. Druley said, "We have confidence someone will see us. It's inevitable we're going to be on TV" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/26). The HOUSTON CHRONICLE's Barron notes Druley is "amazed that so many mouthpieces are talking about what the Longhorn Network is going to do when it hasn't done a thing." Druley said, "I've never been a mouthpiece for anybody. I'm not going to start now." But the "chatter has not affected ESPN's game plan for the Austin outpost." A successful season for UT football "would make for a more pleasant debut season for the Longhorn Network, regardless of how many (or how few) are watching as the network slowly builds its subscriber base" (CHRON.com, 8/26).
IN THE GRANDER SCHEME: USA TODAY's Hiestand & McCarthy debate the impact of LHN on college football, and Hiestand writes the net "is no big deal in the big picture." Hiestand: "When it comes to a school channel making much difference in today's media, forget it -- that Bevo has left the barn." The Big 12 put "at least a temporary ban" on LHN showing high school games, while the NCAA "put a ban on it showing prep highlights." The network "premiers with almost non-existent distribution -- not unusual for niche channels -- and might end up with millions of households in Texas and surrounding states." Hiestand: "But so what? ESPN's national platforms this weekend will air 13 prep football games." However, McCarthy writes LHN is "another step in the wrong direction for college football." McCarthy: "There's a reason one school never had its own 24/7 channel. Because it would give it an unfair advantage in money, media exposure and recruiting. That's what will happen with Texas and sugar daddy ESPN. ... Don't get me started on potential conflict-of-interest issues here" (USA TODAY, 8/26).