Monday, November 21, 2011
Pac-12 networks are taking shape
By ESPN.com staff
Consider the alphabet soup of the Pac-12 football and basketball TV schedule. You hate it don't you? What channel is GHCTV? Does my cable company have that in Salem, Ore.?
That will be no more next fall. Pac-12 Enterprises president Gary Stevenson is going to make sure of that.
Every football and men's basketball game will be televised nationally. Not sitting in your living room? You will be able to see it on your cell phone or your tablet or that video chip implanted in your brain, if that's the next technological step.
"We have the ability to deliver our content to any screen known to mankind," Stevenson said.
Stevenson is a busy man. He's building a national network and six regional networks -- Washington, Oregon, Northern California, Southern California, Arizona and Mountain -- from the ground up. He's got to hire between 125 and 175 people and move them into a new building in the Bay Area. And they need to be ready to broadcast 850 sporting events -- 350 nationally and 500 regionally -- by August 2012.
The Pac-12, which also has a 12-year TV contract worth about $3 billion with ESPN and Fox, already has announced partnerships with cable companies Comcast, Cox, Time Warner and Bright House that will distribute the networks. The next question: What about the satellite providers?
Answer: It's ongoing.
"We believe that our programming is compelling enough and that there is enough interest that the other affiliates will be interested in having serious conversations with us," Stevenson said. "But they have to decide that. That's not just us."
If you use a satellite provider and are concerned about getting the Pac-12 networks, Stevenson provided this bit of advice: "That would be a good question for them to ask their provider."
Stevenson much preferred to talk about what the Pac-12 Network already has.
"The level of distribution we already have by virtue of the agreement with the cable companies is unprecedented," he said. "Any fan that is in our footprint will have an opportunity to get our service at launch. Not any but the majority, which is very rare for a new network to be able to say this far in advance. Rather than focusing on what we don't have, the real focus is what we do have. There aren't many channels that launch with this much."
Pac-12 Enterprises also announced this month that it has reached an agreement that will give it control of third-tier TV rights -- games that are not picked up by the Pac-12’s primary media partners, Fox and ESPN -- as well as digital and sponsorship rights in the wireless and multiplatform video distributor categories. That means the conference will have total control of a lot of A-list content.
"We're building a content company, and any time you're building a content company, what you desire is to have the ability to distribute your content to all different forms of the media," Stevenson said. "It's unique in that we have the ability to distribute all our video content as we see fit. It gives you a lot of flexibility as to what you do, how you do it, when you do it and with which partners you do it."
Stevenson said the Pac-12 has a facility team in place -- architect, construction managers, system engineers -- and that an announcement on a home base for Pac-12 Enterprises should come within two to four weeks. Next on his docket is filling out senior leadership roles. The hiring of Brent Willman as senior vice president of finance and accounting has already been announced. He spent the past three years as senior vice president and chief financial officer for The Oprah Winfrey Network and Discovery Communications.
After facilities and management, another focus is sponsorship and advertising. Stevenson said he expects to reach agreements with eight to 12 corporate partners that will be involved across the enterprise.
Beyond personnel, infrastructure and corporate partnerships, there's content. What's the programming mix across seven networks? What about studio shows? And archived programming? There's also a concerted effort to not make the networks only about men's basketball and football. Broadcasting Olympic sports and features that provide background on less high-profile Pac-12 athletes also will be a priority.
Said Stevenson, "Don't forget the man or woman who puts on a soccer jersey."
Like we said: Stevenson is busy. A full plate, however, isn't muting his enthusiasm for what's ahead.
"There is a real consumer need and want for what we are going to do," he said. "People really want to watch every Pac-12 football game and every Pac-12 basketball game and a bunch of the Olympic sports."