Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Requiem for American Sports Network

Doron Gorshein tried.  He tried his hand at the America Channel and it never got off the ground.  When you Google "America Channel Gorshein", you'll find articles from 2003-2008 about when the channel was going to launch.  It never did.  With ASN, the concept for the sports portion finally did, but it wasn't enough.

From a content perspective, ASN had hours of it.  Most of it in the realm of college sports, but they tried their hand with the MiLB Game of the Week and ARCA Racing.  The branding was used for regional MLS distribution for a couple squads.  One way to view ASN was that they were filling a hole largely vacated by ESPN Regional Television as syndicated content left both over-the-air and regional sports networks.

Where ASN didn't necessarily fill that gap was the quality, real or perceived, of all of the content being substituted in.  This is by no means a dig at any of the college properties that ASN provided a platform for.  But let's be real for a minute: Conference USA and several FCS conferences were filling holes vacated by what we now know as the Power Five.  It wasn't the Big 12 or SEC.  In the case of ARCA, no one was mistaking it for NASCAR and ARCA isn't near the top of NASCAR's "farm system".

Conference USA really needed this platform back in 2014.  Besides the adverse effects of realignment on their membership (again, not a dig at the incoming schools), the dawn of the SEC Network directly killed off their regional partner CSS (Comcast Sports Southeast/Southwest) as replays and school related programming would shift there, leaving both C-USA and the Sun Belt devoid of a regional TV partner (CSS helped with the Sun Belt Network too).  CBS Sports Network had cut back on their commitment to the conference and without that regional partner (CBSSN's agreement with CSS was a sublicense), the conference had a huge gap that needed to be filled.  ASN had the conference as a flagship.

Several conferences from the original America Channel were lined up for ASN, but they didn't always resemble what they looked like in 2007.  Many conferences weren't as regional as they used to be.  Football windows were split two or three times, occasionally among overlapping conferences.  And we don't consume video content today in the same fashion that we did back then.  Delivering content online, and eventually through mobile phones, tablets and connected TVs, was in its relative infancy.  ESPN was involved in it through ESPN3, but not many others.

ASN entered the market focused so heavily on TV, and filling time on digital subchannels in several cases, that its online digital product was an afterthought (you might call it non-existent) for its first couple years of existence.  I probably answered more questions about ASN with respect to consuming their content through online means, not television.  Some ASN's games were distributed online by the network themselves as some digital rights reverted to ESPN due to sublicensing, but you had to search or know where to go if ASN wasn't distributing the game you wanted on TV.  In other cases, ASN didn't have the digital rights, but the conferences didn't/couldn't distribute the games digitally either.

Consumers on a large scale, outside of the immediate fans of that content, weren't really seeking out ASN, at least not on that primary screen.  At the end of the day, we're still looking for those established names on the big screen.  Maybe that's where Silver Chalice Networks, the parent company of both Campus Insiders, rumored to be taking over ASN's existing obligations, and 120 Sports, will be better positioned as that second screen network.

No comments: