Thursday, April 13, 2017

The New ASN: Silver Chalice TV?

The news finally appeared that Sinclair Broadcasting's American Sports Network would be changing in its format, with the creation of a new entity involving Sinclair, Silver Chalice and 120 Sports.

From the point of view of college athletics, Campus Insiders and ASN will be providing the live events where 120 Sports, with equity partners including pro sports & media entities, would provide a great deal of the studio programming.

Its hard for me to completely describe the relationship between 120 Sports and Campus Insiders.  I look at them as first cousins.  120 Sports, at this time, doesn't have any live events to contribute, but the equity partners they have should be able to provide the network with a ton of unique content.  The Silver Chalice umbrella counts White Sox & Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf as its chairman.

Campus Insiders and Sinclair have direct relationships with the following collegiate conferences for live events:
  • Conference USA 
    • It is believed that this may be the only live events agreement that Sinclair is bringing from ASN in addition to a schedule of games on Campus Insiders.
  • Mountain West
    • SportsLabs, a media platform in the Silver Chalice family, is the platform running the conference's website.  Campus Insiders also provides the framework for the Mountain West Network digital network.
  • Patriot League
  • WCC
    • Similar to the Mountain West, the conference's website and digital network are in the Silver Chalice family.
All three entities have partnered on distributing the Arizona Bowl the last two years, with ASN providing the telecast and both Campus Insiders and 120 Sports handling digital delivery and exclusive second screen programming.

The ACC's website is also maintained by SportsLabs, along with websites from multiple schools, including Wyoming, Penn & Kansas St.  Digital network repositories for both the ACC and Big 12 exist over at Campus Insiders too.

For the new entity, the feeling I get it that Sinclair will provide it with the distribution outlet of digital subchannels on several Sinclair owned TV stations that previously housed the 24/7 ASN feed.  From that point of view, you might view it as Sinclair getting out of the business of actively managing a sports channel and reducing its risk by providing the blank canvas of airspace to Silver Chalice and 120 Sports to program over it, with those two entities, hopefully, providing better distribution digitally, better content and improved event production over what Sinclair provided.

So what events could make it to the new network?  My initial expectation is Conference USA will be there at the start.  Maybe this network tries to attract another former ASN tentpole in the Atlantic 10, who has prior experience with Campus Insiders.  After that, I don't know because I don't know how the existing contracts are structured for the Mountain West and WCC with their TV partners to handle another national TV partner if this entity is considered as such, particularly in cases where the "conference footprint" is designated as in-market with streaming in the out-of-market areas.  Over time, I could see it being a player for media rights, particularly with a conference like the Mountain West who has expressed dissatisfaction with existing TV partners over the number of evening football games and how it has eroded ticket sales.  Or maybe a conference like the Big Ten, who has elected to go with shorter term rights deals with ESPN and FOX Sports, would look at Campus Insiders to handle something a package of content like BTN Plus, but with a few football & men's basketball games in the future.  Whether they could pony up the cash to get a deal done is anyone's guess, and as anyone who follows Sports TV Ratings on Twitter will tell you, digital viewers do not equal TV viewers, so the revenues from linear TV can't necessarily be derived through digital distribution.

What I'm also curious about is the linear television distribution beyond Sinclair's multicast channels.  Campus Insiders has been able to provide live content through several different mediums, such as Verizon's go90 mobile video delivery app, Dish Network's Sling TV and Twitter.  Will the network continue to have dedicated feeds, or live event programming through those delivery methods?  ASN had live events provided to several RSNs in the Xfinity family along with unaffiliated RSNs like Altitude, NESN, MASN and Cox Sports.  Will that continue or end, particularly if a standalone channel is started?

More questions than answers, but hopefully it will provide easier access to these games for fans, higher quality programming and a better return to the schools, either financially at the gate through more control of start times or a rights fee off the production of live events.

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