Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Mountain West, their ESPN contract and streaming vs. lower penetration on TV

If you have read my Twitter timeline in the last twelve hours, you have seen a fair amount of tweets regarding the Mountain West basketball television schedule and a few things come to mind:
  • It took CBS Sports Network and CBS nearly eight years, and what appears to be the dumping of Comcast as a sublicensing partner, to finally get some good use out of their MWC package.  A restructured contract certainly helps, but the network finally made the commitment to their own network to show these games.  Cue some complaints from BYU, TCU and Utah fans about this, but they also know they are in better places.
  • That's a lot of games on ESPN3 in basketball.  Glimpse into how ESPN will handle the football package?  More on that later.
  • In the past the conference has let the teams release things on their own, then the conference office does a release weeks later compiling the TV info.  All nice and well, but you have a brand new website.  Why not get some mileage out of it now for disseminating information?  There's also the fact that some schools listed TV games that the opposing school did not, so by letting the schools handle it, they've ended up possibly making errors.  No consistency in the message.  I've said this before when schools have changed website hosts: Content management is a two way street.  A new host/website is as only as good as the people who are charged with making decisions about what appears on the site.
First, the ESPN package - I received a few replies that noted there are only two games on ESPN2, not to mention that they are in the same calendar week.  Like you, I was surprised that there weren't other games on ESPN or ESPN2.  If you couple it with the eight ESPNU games (let's take Air Force vs. Army out of the equation as it is part of the Armed Forces Classic), that's ten games.  It is the same number of games that aired on NBC Sports Network last season.  Is the ESPN package a direct replacement of the NBCSN package?  Maybe.  Not in terms of the contractual nature of NBC's package as a sublicense, but possibly in the number of games.

So what does that mean for football?  Let's remove Rutgers at Fresno St. since it was part of a sublicense/game trade with CBS Sports Network.  Without that one, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU have seven games so far.  One more Boise St. game has to appear on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, so either the Southern Miss, Wyoming or New Mexico home game will appear on one of those nets.  After that, it will depend on what slots ESPN has open.  NBCSN televised ten games last year, so if meeting the NBCSN game count was required, two other MW games will air on television.

Next, the balance of CBS Sports Network vs. ESPN3 - Mountain West fans haven't been the only ones to bring this up.  So have fans of the American Athletic Conference.  Is it better to be on a traditional medium like CBS Sports Network, even if it the channel is subscribed to by only around 5/8ths of the homes who can get ESPN3 (note: CBS Sports Network often touts availability, not subscribers, though its tough to find accurate numbers for them)?  Kansas went the route of out-of-market ESPN3 streaming for a handful of out-of-conference football & basketball, plus other sports with in-market rights to Time Warner Cable.  Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples noted that we're becoming a society that doesn't really think twice anymore when it comes to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV, the latter now providing ESPN3 a platform.  The Pac-12 Networks, BTN and SEC Network will all utilize it for specialty content, plus the out-of-home viewing experience.  NBC Sports Network utilizes for live events, some taped events (F1 in some cases) and their Extra Time coverage of the Barclays Premier League.  The internet, provided that you have the proper speed required to get good quality, is clearly that next frontier.

But what about the "casual" viewer, channel surfing on a Saturday?  He may not have access to a CBS Sports Network game.  I admit to not being a casual fan so I may not be the right person to gauge their point-of-view.  My thoughts on that line of thinking:
  • CBS Sports Network is still targeted towards sports packages on cable.  Is that casual viewer even paying for that package?  I'm not sure they are.
  • If they are looking for college football on a Saturday, they are more likely to gravitate towards broadcast networks and ESPN.  Even with FOX's PR machine pulling out all the stops with FOX Sports 1, it will take some time to get ramp up there.  And CBS Sports Network, even with history of television Division I FBS football since 2004, still isn't in that conversation.
CBS Sports Network is the incumbent for the Mountain West, but it is no longer the sole rightsholder.  Frankly, the "we're taking a slow, methodical approach" really shouldn't cut it for the conference anymore, nor for the folks at the network.  Distribution needs to move upward.  Fast.  They need to get back on the stick when it comes to a companion online option for these games, which disappeared after CBS bought the channel.  Especially since they are the primary partner and seem to have the best football and men's basketball games for the conference.  If I were the conference, I would have given CBS those "priority picks" on a conditional basis and tie them to channel distribution.  In other words, CBS has to make efforts to increase distribution to keep selecting games at the top.  CBS has seven years until the next rights negotiation with the conference, but being at a number slightly north of 50 million homes doesn't cut it anymore.  


highwaychile said...

I couldn't agree more that the MWC should be getting more prominent exposure in this day and age Matt. Not only in light of the proliferation of all the choices for media outlets now available, but also to take advantage of a very successful period for the conference in both football and basketball.
Of course, I'm still seething from my cable provider dropping CBSSN 2 years ago. I too am about as far as one could get from "casual fan," but if I did have access to CBSSN I would certainly "find" the MWC games; even if it were on an online outlet. CBSSN is missing the boat here IMHO, but if all of the games they broadcast were available on, I would seriously consider subscribing.
I suppose their theory is that offering such a package might take away some bargaining chip they can use when attempting to sell CBSSN to cable systems.

Wolv RU said...

Slightly off topic, but CBSSN does have one of the best weekly preview shows out there. I actually like it much more than GameDay these days, since they seem to cover much more football and less fluff.

Surprised that this show hasn't taken off a little more in the past few years.