Thursday, April 5, 2012

Requiem for the mtn.

It was announced today that the mtn., the regional sports network dedicated to Mountain West athletics, would be shut down at the end of May.  The network will have covered the conference for six athletic years.  It was part of the conference's television deal with College Sports Television, an upstart cable network devoted to college sports.  After the MWC-CSTV deal was, CSTV was purchased by CBS and CSTV in turn licensed the regional network's operating rights to Comcast and the mtn. was born.

It was the first 24x7 conference television network, a forerunner to the Big Ten Network and the forthcoming Pac-12 Network.  There were missteps along the way, such as never appearing on Dish Network and the inability to gain access onto Time Warner systems in San Diego nor the Charter system in Fort Worth.  The lack of a dedicated HD feed for all programming made the channel feel 3rd rate, particularly when other Comcast RSNs had the available HD feeds.  Let's not forget that until a year ago, Comcast wasn't tied to a direct rival of CBS like it is today, and its possible that the two broadcast entities were not willing to partner going forward.

The MWC themselves did not have equity in the channel, so their ability to influence carriage negotiations and programming decisions may have been limited.  We've seen that equity in a channel can directly benefit the schools' bottom lines when done right (BTN), but in the case of the MWC, this allowed them to be insulated from profit/loss issues.

It sucks for folks who were there that were doing their best to push the network towards success.  It sucks for fans of those schools, who may never get that type of regional push across the entire conference's footprint that the channel gave them.  It sucks particularly for basketball and other sports which would have never had their games on regional TV without the channel.

The change in the conference's direction and membership over the past three years is obviously a major reason why its time to shut down.  This shut down should be a cautionary tale to all considering a conference network (SEC ??) and those working on school specific programming (looking at you Bevo).  If the mtn. couldn't survive while offering a boatload of solid sports inventory, the Longhorn Network might as well be shuttered even if it has the the cache of ESPN behind it.

Sports Business Journal notes that the conference is talking with CBS Sports Network about a new contract.  No idea if that involves the remaining MWC schools only, the proposed C-USA/MWC conglomeration or just a 1 year amendment.  Not sure if NBC Sports Network remains in the fold to license games now that they will no longer be involved in the RSN portion of the business.  What happens to the games that aren't on a national platform is anyone's guess.

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