June 28, 2013 in Sports

Pac-12 Networks confident, even without DirecTV

By The Spokesman-Review
 


(Full-size photo)

For fans who root for Pac-12 teams but watch their television via DirecTV, it’s always a good news, bad news scenario when talking Pac-12 Networks.

The good news, as the Networks’ new president Lydia Murphy-Stephans proudly notes, is that their first year, by their own standards, has been a rousing success. Launched in August, the Pac-12 Networks broadcast 550 live events in addition to more than 200 hours of original programming. In its second year, they plan to carry 750 live events.

So, that’s the good news. The bad news, if you’re a DirecTV subscriber: you still probably won’t be able to watch any of it.

Murphy-Stephans, who was promoted from her position as executive vice president and general manager when then-president Gary Stevenson resigned in April, called it “a disappointment” that negotiations between the Pac-12 Networks and DirecTV haven’t progressed.

The satellite provider is the most prominent holdout when it comes to Pac-12 Networks distribution – that battle became very public as negotiations stalled last August – though Murphy-Stephans mentioned a desire for the Networks to be distributed through as many providers as possible, such as Verizon or AT&T.

“Distribution, revenue, quality of production – that’s my top three,” Murphy-Stephans said during a phone interview earlier this week. “So distribution is at the top of the list in terms of importance.”

Still, she added, “as it relates to DirecTV, I’m not optimistic. But that won’t stop me from continuing to negotiate.”

So, there’s nothing new on the DirecTV front. Those living in the greater Spokane area who subscribe to Comcast, Dish Network or Time Warner Cable, however, will be able to view what Murphy-Stephans believes is a bulked-up programming schedule this fall.

The popular highlight show, Pac-12 Playbook, will be tweaked to put more of an emphasis on coaches. Murphy-Stephans said the 30-minute program will now have the feel of a true coaches show.

Also in the works, Murphy-Stephans said, is a 30-minute show called Football Weekly that will debut in August and air each week throughout the year to respond to the fact that “365 days a year, football is topical in this conference.”

A year-round, weekly “sports-desk type show” will also debut in August with an emphasis on all Pac-12 athletics, particularly Olympic sports.

And of most interest to true football fans may be the introduction of a behind-the-scenes program similar to HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” Murphy-Stephans said. The show will follow two teams starting in preseason camp and continuing through the season.

The identities of those two teams are “very close” to being announced, she said.

A common fan gripe when it comes to the Pac-12 Networks: What’s with all the late start times?

The goal, Murphy-Stephans said, is exposure. And in other parts of the country, the late time slots are the preferred ones.

“If you ask the same question to an ESPN programmer, their response is likely: ‘The conundrum is, who gets it?’” said Murphy-Stephans. “Because the SEC conference gets upset if they don’t get to play in prime time. But I do understand for the schools on the West Coast, it’s an issue. We are very sensitive to trying to accommodate the fans and the schools to the best of our ability.”

She said the conference closely monitors how many late games are played by each school, and that the Pac-12 and its media partners are “very sensitive to make sure that one school doesn’t consistently have a late window week in and week out.”

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