Joe Ovies

Report: ACC Network lining up digital distribution

Posted June 26

It appears Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford will have some new television talking points for the upcoming ACC Kickoff media event in July.

According to the Sports Business Journal, ESPN has signed the ACC Network's first carriage agreements with digital video providers. The report doesn't specify which "over-the-top" internet video service has signed on with the ACC Network, such as Hulu or DirecTV Now, only that it was with providers who have deals with the Disney owned family of networks beyond 2019. The Sports Business Journal also noted the ACC Network will have a lower per subscriber rate than the ESPN owned SEC Network or the Big Ten Network. While a lower rate per subscriber might raise a few eyebrows, the ACC Network still offers ESPN a much needed new revenue stream in the age of diminished household penetration.

On the surface, knocking out digital agreements for the ACC Network is a healthy sign for ESPN's distribution plans. It remains to be seen where the ACC Network would sit inside a service such as Sling TV or PlayStation Vue, which offer various tiers of channels at increasingly expensive price points, but the takeaway here is to be available for ACC fans once the network launches. The next step is leveraging these smaller deals into larger carriage arrangements with Charter, Verizon and AT&T. According to the Sports Business Journal, each of the big distributors will be up for re-negotiation beginning in late 2018.

2018 is also when the ACC and ESPN will begin making programming decisions for their linear network. About all anyone can say definitively is that there will be a linear network and there will be games broadcast on said linear network, but what about all the other stuff a linear network needs? The conference and its network partner are savvy enough to understand a straight copy of the SEC Network, with studio shows featuring a distinctive conference homer flavor, won't connect with typical ACC consumers.

David Teel of the Daily Press provided a glimpse into how universities are ramping up production facilities in preparation of the ACC Network's launch. ESPN wants each school to be fully operational by 2018 in order to minimize network glitches when the channel goes live. It's entirely possible some of non-game programming could be produced by the universities, such as a coach's show or in-depth features on teams and players.

Those questions will be resolved over the next several months, but the latest updates on the ACC Network prove once again there's no turning back. ESPN is all-in.

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