July 28, 2011 in Sports

Blanchette: Pac-12 TV deal will be served as cold dish

By The Spokesman-Review
 

There’s a year until liftoff, but Wednesday’s introduction of Pac-12 Networks – trumpeting one national and six regional channels to serve college sports fans with some 850 live televised events annually – included one murmured caveat:

You’d better have a cable package.

The Conference of Champions is morphing into the Conference of Co-Operatives, having agreed to a 12-year deal beginning in August 2012 to launch its own network to be carried by a consortium of cable television providers – Comcast, Cox, Bright House and alpha dog Time-Warner. This is the programming that didn’t fit in the deal Pacific-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott hammered out three months ago with the strange-bedfellows partnership of ESPN and Fox for $3 billion, over the same 12 years.

It will include 35 football games, more than 100 men’s basketball games, 40 women’s basketball games and more than 650 Olympic sports contests.

But, until further notice, if you own a dish you’re out of luck.

“We are hopeful, expect, we will have additional distribution with satellite companies and other cable companies,” Scott said.

But apparently, that part of the equation wasn’t an initial priority.

“We haven’t been approached,” said Robert Mercer, director of public relations for DirecTV, “so nothing to talk about right now.”

Seems like more than a trivial shortcoming for a deal that Scott felt worthy of unveiling in New York as a means to “super-serve our fans and cater to what they most care about.”

The four cable carriers serve roughly 45 million homes nationwide. DirecTV and Dish Network, the two major satellite carriers, reach nearly 34 million homes.

On the other hand, there’s no reason to presume that Scott, the Multiplatform Kid, won’t connect with the satellite providers eventually. He’s completed every pass so far.

If the ESPN/Fox deal was the 99-yard touchdown, this one at least got the Pac-12 a first down at the 1.

“This delivers on our promise that every football and men’s basketball game will be available to a national audience on television,” Scott said. “Our arrangement with our cable partners will be cutting edge as far embracing technology through ‘TV Everywhere.’ These events can be accessed on any device so long as fans are authenticated through cable subscriptions.”

Running with an idea hatched by Time-Warner programming executive Melinda Witmer, Scott got himself a national outlet and six regionals aimed at the Pac-12’s distinct geographic areas.

According to Scott, the Pac-12 national channel will air 350 events annually. The regionals – including Pac-12 Washington in this state – will also pick up those and 500 others, most of them contests involving Washington State or Washington.

It’s believed the regional network will be carried in Spokane on a digital starter package. The national network would likely be available for extra fees on a sports tier that includes channels such as Fox Soccer, Fox College Sports and CBS Sports Network.

So, more games – and matches, meets and tournaments – for everyone. And more money for the Pac-12, right?

Hasn’t every one of Scott’s bold strokes – expansion, which birthed a football championship game, and the earlier TV deal – meant a windfall?

Well, not so fast on this one.

Scott would not reveal the terms of the cable contract – he didn’t with the ESPN/Fox bonanza, either, but no one on the inside felt it necessary to keep the secret.

This one had a different focus.

“On the heels of our broadcast cable deal, we didn’t have as much pressure on the financial side of this,” Scott said. “Our goals were primarily about what’s best for the conference long term. This was something we could control and own and dedicate resources to.

“The ‘aha!’ moment was the concept of hyperlocal additional networks that would allow us to create even broader exposure for more Olympic sports to the fan bases that would care most about it.”

Translation: Conference schools won’t realize any immediate revenue from this brainchild. They’re betting on the come.

In any case, the bottom line for Cougars fans is this: Every Apple Cup will be on TV, and every men’s basketball game will be on what, technically, will be a national broadcast. And beyond the handful of baseball games that reach the air, now some volleyball, the WSU-UW track dual and maybe a big regatta or two will find a cable home.

“This provides a level of flexibility and tailoring,” Scott said, “that no other idea could do.”

Just one more thing on Larry’s list: Get behind the dish.

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