Pac-12 Network releases schedule, expects big things

If seeing is believing, then college presidents around the country have been flipping through the channels on their TV package at home on Saturdays and quickly telling their commissioner to start working on a conference network.

It's why the SEC has been pursuing the so-called 'Project X' that would bring them their own television network, possibly in partnership with ESPN, and a boatload of cash.

"It's going to be big," said Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork. "We don't know what it is. But it's going to be big."

It's also why the Pac-12 is ambitiously launching not one conference network but seven, in the form of six regional networks and one national channel.

"We expect that over time, since the Pac-12 Networks are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pac-12 Conference, we will build a network both linear and digital that reflect not only the brands of the conference but also the universities," Gary Stevenson, the president of Pac-12 Enterprises, said. "We're most concerned with putting quality content on the air and producing over 850 live events our first year."

Everybody thinks the idea will work but they're chasing after the Big Ten Network (BTN) which, after a slow start, has approached the threshold to be considered a national network. During Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago, the presidents and chancellors received an update from BTN president Mark Silverman that no doubt made them smile while seeing the dollar figures he ticked off. Network ad revenue was up 20% year-over-year and up to a total of about 50 million subscribers with more of them outside the conference footprint then inside it.

A rousing success entering its sixth season, BTN has turned into the envy of the college sports world and the chief reason why the conference distributes more money to schools than any other. Next up, the Pac-12 will boldly go where even their Midwest brethren have not gone by kicking off their first month on-air with six opening week football games (a total of 35 will be broadcasted) across their platforms while ramping up to a total of 850 live events.

"When we come on-air, there will be a 'Welcome to the Pac-12 Networks' so people understand what it is we're doing and why we're doing it and who our talent is," Stevenson said. "We'll have visits from a lot of our talent and I expect we'll have visits from our Olympic athletes -- we have enough of them, it's quite an impressive roster and we could have over 200 (Pac-12) athletes competing in the Olympics between alums and students."

"There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Pac-12 Network, especially the fact that it broadens the league's viewing base on a national level," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "It is a huge plus to have so many events in every sport, not just football, receive exposure on the Pac-12 Network's various platforms, whether you are a fan, a parent, a recruit, a coach or just a channel-hopper who happens upon the network.  Our league puts a great product on the field of play and we will now be able to highlight that to the nation's viewers in a unique and cutting-edge fashion through the Pac-12 Network."

Games will be the center piece of the network because there likely won't be any highlights or daily news show during the first few months (if not a year) of operation. Pac-12 Enterprises, the conference-owned subsidiary the networks operates under, will move into their new downtown San Francisco headquarters on July 9th and be the focal point of operations.

"Of course we'll have classic games and preview shows. There will be a lot of programming between (August) 15th and the 20th and we'll probably have somewhere between 10-12 live events before our first football game," Stevenson added. "We will probably have studio shows for a lot of our events, particularly football and basketball, and we'll have a lot of recap shows."

Also unique will be content piped in live from each Pac-12 campus. While USC and UCLA may have a full studio ready to go, logistics and location have forced a few schools to be brought to speed quickly.

"The majority of our content will emanate from the campuses," Stevenson said. "In some cases, we're putting some fiber in so we can transmit data from there to us. In some cases we'll put more power in. In all cases, we'll have a dedicated area at the school where we can do interviews and press conferences and those kind of things and we'll also invest in equipment so that we have a variety of different equipment we can use to have content come from the campuses.

"In other cases it will be a small room with a green screen behind. That gives us a chance to have someone on for the issue of the day or if the athlete of the week or if somebody scores five goals and we want to interview them, we can do that. The relationship and cooperation with the campuses and what they've done already, it's not like they haven't been doing this for years. It's pretty exciting for us because we're dealing with some real professionals."

The undertaking is a familiar one for Stevenson, who helped launch the Golf Channel in the mid-90's and has been a major player in the industry for decades. While commissioner Larry Scott, left, has said the endeavor will be profitable from day one thanks to distribution deals in place with cable companies Comcast, Cox, Bright House and Time Warner on top of the conference's new media deals with Fox and ESPN for close to $3 billion. The rumored going price for the networks is 90 cents per subscriber per month inside the Pac-12 footprint so the math looks like it does workout in year one.

Inside Pac-12 markets the national and respective regional channel should land on basic cable while the rest of the country will likely find the network on a sports tier next to BTN. Still, a fight for greater distribution remains with DirecTV, Dish Network, Charter Cable, Verizon and AT&T among others engaged in talks. DirecTV, a major player in the sports arena, has already tried to push back publicly with CEO Michael White saying that the company would not carry all seven channels.

"I have no idea the context of how the question was asked so I can't really comment on what (White) said. All I can tell you is whether or not somebody decides to carry a network or networks is a function of good content and we have great content," Stevenson said. "Our dialogue with DirecTV is what I would characterize as positive and meaningful. Somebody could have said, 'Hey I heard you're carrying seven networks for the Pac-12' and he could have said, 'What do you mean we're carrying seven networks?' There's nothing that I read that said they're not interested in our content. There's nothing that suggested that and there's nothing in our dialogue that suggested that. To me it's a normal course of business.

"We know that when we turn the signal on, a lot of people will be able to watch our content and that's unusual when you're launching a network."

For those that do end up carrying the network(s), channel numbers should come out around August 1st before the eventual launch on the 15th (you can find out if you get the channels here). Additionally the digital portion of the network, so-called 'TV Everywhere,' will result in subscribers being able to watch games, shows and other content on anything from their phones to their computers. Stevenson added that they partnered with a company called Ooyala to help develop the product and that they had some 60 Pac-12 alumni working at the firm.

“It’s really amazing, and people are going to be impressed,” Steve Fenk, the associate athletic director for communications at Oregon State, told the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “I’m sure there are going to be glitches to start out with, but it’s going to be awesome for us — for small schools like us. We’ll be on TV more than most of the schools in the country. This is blowing by the SEC and Big Ten networks. It’s blowing by them like they are standing still.”

For the Pac-12, the forthcoming networks will hopefully translate into more exposure, more content and, of course, more money.


Thur., Aug. 30     
Northern Colorado at Utah    4:15 pm PT/7:15 p.m. ET
Northern Arizona at Arizona State     7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m.ET

Fri., Aug. 31
San Jose State at Stanford    7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET

Sat., Sept. 1
Nevada at California     12 noon PT/3 p.m. ET
Nicholls State at Oregon State    12 noon PT/3 p.m. ET
San Diego State at Washington    7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET

Sat., Sept. 8
Southern Utah at California     12 noon PT/3 p.m. ET
Eastern Wash. at Washington State    12 noon PT/3 p.m. ET
Sacramento State at Colorado    12 noon PT/3 p.m. ET
Fresno State at Oregon     3:30 p.m. PT/6:30 p.m. ET
Oklahoma State at Arizona     7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET
Duke at Stanford     7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET

Sat., Sept. 15         
Tennessee Tech at Oregon    12 noon PT/3 p.m.ET
South Carolina State at Arizona    7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET
Houston at UCLA    7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET
Sat., Sept. 22
California at USC    TBA

(12- or six-day selection for each of the remaining Pac-12 home games)

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