Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pac-12 Networks Distribution & brief item on ASN

* I've fielded a lot of complaints from fans of Pac-12 schools living in the Pac-12 footprint regarding changes to how Pac-12 Networks events have been shown starting with the winter sports season, specifically where men's basketball games are only being shown live on the national feed, plus the regional feed(s) of the competing schools.  Austin Meek of the Register-Guard in Eugene, OR posted a column yesterday noting the changes and that football games will come under this programming strategy in the fall along with confusion that fans (still?) have regarding the national feed and the appropriate regional feed.

I say (still?) because its been three and a half years that the networks have been around and I put that on the Pac-12 themselves because if there is confusion about the programming on the networks, they might not be marketing things very well (ya think, Matt?), and a Pac-12 Networks executive admitted to Meek that seven networks "is a confusing model".  And that might be where the decision is being made to make the regional networks solely devoted to the two schools in each region where a regional channel is shown and to try to make it clearer as to where to find, for example, Stanford sports.  That does make sense.

What doesn't quite make sense is that the Pac-12 didn't put a lot of teeth behind how they wanted these channels distributed.  Maybe in their haste to get deals done, maybe in a bit of naivete or hubris about the programming on the channels and how receptive people would be to have the networks, Meek notes what others have mentioned to me: there's no consistency in the placement of the regional and national feeds by provider with respect to programming tiers.  There are also complaints about feed delivery as some might get the regional feed in HD, some might get the national feed in HD.

I look at the SEC Network and BTN, probably the SEC more because they've marketed themselves this way, and they seem to emphasize that the conference is more than a sum of its parts.  When I see that the pay TV provider can choose to emphasize a Pac-12 Networks regional feed over a primary one, I see the Pac-12 failing to be able to show that their conference matters across a six state region, at least in some areas.

In some ways, this isn't a lot different than Arizona & Arizona St. placing games that weren't nationally televised on FOX Sports Arizona, or UCLA & USC on Prime Ticket and FOX Sports West, minus a) the fact that these games weren't streamed but were often shown on FOX College Sports and b) not everyone went through FOX and availability of these non-FOX games out of market were often non-existent, but I thought this was something the conference wanted to get away from and make their games more available to their fans?

Yes, you can stream the national feed and any of the regional feeds if you subscribe to the network in any fashion.  Being that I'm a bit tech savvy and I believe a fair amount of fans are too, I'm not hurt by that too much, but I also have to pay extra to see anything from the Pac-12 Networks as someone outside of those six states.  And five years from now, maybe sooner, this would be more widely accepted.  For example, there might be a Pac-12 app on your receiver to get to the other feeds without using cast to screen devices.  But I think its a valid complaint when there are live events going on and you're stuck with the replay of a "classic" Territorial Cup on TV on the Pac-12 Network feed you subscribe to, for example.

Not the first example of the Pac-12 being yelled at for its TV deals, but whether its ESPN, FOX or the Pac-12 Networks, all they seem to do is throw up their hands and say they can't do much, even the schools.  But I bet the schools never fail to cash the rights fee check or make sure the direct deposit hits the right account.

* Looks like ASN's "national" feed is being allowed to show UCF at Tulsa on Sunday, which is one of their American Athletic Conference games sublicensed from ESPN.  In a previous post I wrote, I was not sure if they were allowed to place those on the national feed since the streaming rights to several events that ASN carries on TV stayed with ESPN to be shown on ESPN3.

It looks like ESPN "may" be sublicensing content to ASN from the Horizon League as well, instead of the Horizon League cutting a deal directly with the conference.  Each HL game on ASN this year has also been streamed on ESPN3 and the Oakland at Milwaukee game on Monday 1/25 will also appear on the national feed.

As for the national feed's distribution, that will depend on Sinclair being able to either buyout or not renew existing formats on some digital subchannels on their own stations and to be able to negotiate for carriage of content on other station group's signals.  I'm unsure if they would be willing to work with existing RSNs to provide backdrop programming or to form a loose coalition of RSNs, a la FOX Sports Regional Networks, to get into additional markets.


Morgan Wick said...

I'm not sure the Pac-12 themselves were all that sure what they wanted the seven-network model to be. What seemed logical to me at the time was that they would distribute each regional network within each region on basic tiers and the national network on sports tiers across the country (including within the network footprint). The way they programmed them until late last year was consistent with the regional networks serving as deviations from the national feed, making it effectively one network with seven feeds providing regionalized coverage. But I also know that the Pac-12 seemed to want the national feed to be widely distributed within the footprint as well, which didn't make sense to me, and that several providers also include regional networks outside each region, especially the California networks.

I question the relevance of the regional feeds at all if they're just going to serve as networks dedicated to two schools rather than the whole conference; I'm not sure they would have gotten off the ground anywhere outside LA if this was what they were from the start. You say the notion of requiring streaming to watch out-of-market games is a bit too far ahead of its time; I say it reflects decidedly outdated thinking. In a streaming, on-demand world, live events are the only sort of thing that warrants a place on a linear television schedule at all; if I want to see an old Territorial Cup, I should be able to pull it up on some sort of on-demand service, and not wait for the Pac-12 to tell me when to tune in. In retrospect, if it never wanted the regional networks to be deviations from the national schedule, the Pac-12 should have gone for something closer to what the BTN does: one feed delivering one schedule with regionalized coverage in certain windows and on "alternate" feeds.

Matt Sarzyniak said...

I agree with a lot of that. I think what I was trying to convey is that in-market (or in the six state P12 footprint), they're requiring streaming if you don't want to pay for a TV feed that may or may not be in HD.

I believe you've seen this, but apparently in Arizona and in some sections of LA, the Cox systems don't even bother with the national feed at all, which does seem to run contradictory to the statements the Pac-12 Network rep told Austin Meek:

From Jon Wilner