ESPN President bullish on ACC Network, cable model
Posted July 21, 2016
"Some of you may be disappointed that I'm not going to be able to do the dance that I've done the last couple of years, dancing around some questions about television. Yes, after years of discussions and rumors, I'm pleased in the company of our presidents, athletic directors, and a cross-section of the finest coaches in the country to announce...the launch of the ACC Network and the ACC Network Extra."
That's how ACC commissioner John Swofford, with his signature dry wit, finally crossed the finish line at this year's ACC Kickoff media event in Charlotte. The Atlantic Coast Conference is getting a dedicated channel similar to the Big Ten Network and SEC Network by 2019. Combined with a grant of rights deal with ESPN that runs through 2035-36, any speculation regarding the current and future health of the conference ended today.
Swofford, ESPN president John Skipper, Duke athletic director Kevin White and Clemson president Jim Clements all took the stage to reiterate most of what had been circulated the week leading up to the official announcement. Beginning in August, 600 exclusive live events will be produced for digital channel "ACC Network Extra," which will available to users who have access to WatchESPN and the ESPN app. When the traditional, linear network launches in 2019, ESPN and ACC expects to have over 1,300 events distributed across the platforms.
Raycom's suite of football and basketball games will continue to be distributed regionally over-the-air and Fox Sports Net until 2019, at which point the ACC Network will takeover the broadcasts. In the meantime, those Raycom produced contests will be subject to ESPN3 local blackout restrictions and not available on ACC Network Extra.
ACC Network Extra will not be an over-the-top internet streaming service either, meaning fans will need cable or satellite subscription authentication similar to WatchESPN.
After the presentation, Skipper was mobbed my media. Given my healthy skepticism regarding the unknown future of the television industry, I had a few questions for ESPN's head honcho.
Given industry trends related to subscriber losses, how confident is ESPN will be able to fully distribute the ACC Network in 2019?
"We are quite confident that we'll be fully distributed by 2019 and we did provide ourselves with some runway deliberately. We're acutely aware of the environment, but sports content continues to be the most valuable content in this environment and we're confident the ACC Network will bring great value, so we'll be able to have good discussions with our distributors."
Given Disney CEO Bob Iger's stance on the inevitability of a standalone ESPN service and recent reports the company could be testing the waters with some college sports, will ACC Network Extra become an over-the-top option?
"Bob [Iger] and I are completely aligned on this, what we've both suggested is that we have to look at a variety of business models. We're fully committed to pay television model, from which we derive great benefit. But as Bob has said, we're also looking at alternative packaging propositions. We're looking at over-the-top distribution and looking at possibilities for us to experiment, and to begin to go direct to consumer with content. However, it is not my intention or Bob's intention that the content that currently exists in the product that we license to the distributors. So that's sort of our point of view right now of this landscape.
Was it by design that there were no financials discussed?
"Was it by design? Yes, it was by design. We will be consistently obfuscatory about what the financials of this arrangement are. Other than that they're positive."
Will the ACC Network be its own channel or will it be flipped from ESPNU or ESPN News?
"The network will be its own channel."