SEC Network: Looking to be the Biggest Conference Net?

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SEC Network —a joint venture between ESPN and the conference—could become the largest conference network in terms of sub base when it launches Aug 14 in more than 90mln homes nationwide. The net has already scored distribution deals with most of the major distributors including AT&T U-Verse, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cox, DirecTV, DISH and Bright House, as well as Google Fiber, NCTC, NRTC, NTTC, LUS Fiber, PTC Communications and Wilkes Telephone. The net is in active negotiations with Verizon FiOS. “We are also talking to a couple of other operators, and the number should grow by a couple million,” Sean Breen, svp of affil sales for Disney and ESPN Media Networks, told us. The still growing Big Ten Network currently reaches around 90mln HHs and together with SEC Net, the pair remain far ahead of their fellow conference nets. SEC Net will reportedly charge $1.40 per sub per month inside the SEC 11-state footprint and $0.25 per month outside of it. To compare, the Big Ten Network reportedly costs approx $1 inside in-market and $0.37 outside of it, while Pac-12 Nets reportedly costs around $0.80. That means SEC Net will also be the largest conference net in terms of revenue generated. Without commenting on rates, Breen said “we are excited about where we landed on the terms. We have met our goal.” The process of securing distribution was a relatively quick and smooth one with little drama involving the major providers, unlike Pac-12 Net’s ongoing battle with DirecTV. The distribution approach was strategically coordinated, Justin Connolly, ESPN svp for college nets told us. The distribution team used each carriage agreement to build momentum, internally and among fans, he said. Announcing AT&T-Verse as launch partner when the net was created more than a year ago and adding DISH along the way, “it just started to create a wave of momentum,” said Connolly, who oversees programming of the new net. “Consumers started to jump on that wave… And then you started to see Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Cox and Charter realize that they have to be in the ground floor, in advance of the launch,” he said. In markets across the country, fans have at least 3 options to access the net, and in many cases 4 options, he noted. “We look at the markets collectively, cutting deals across the board… We didn’t necessarily look at one provider over another. We went to the distributors… and offered deals at the same time,” Breen added. Take programming, with SEC Net seemingly focused on games that resonate nationally. The net’s football season kicks off with a major fight between South Carolina and Texas A&M on Aug 28, a game that major nets would want for their best windows. And content is built around live football and basketball events, Connolly said, noting the pre-game football show “SEC Nation” that seeks to “bring out some of the flavor of what goes on in each one of the campus prior to the games.” The net’s original programming will be event-based. One example is the Kentucky Men’s Basketball Team, which is on an exhibition tour at the Bahamas this week. The net will air 3 games from the tour, “something that would have never have aired in the past. Now we have this outlet. We will take advantage of it,” Connolly said. The goal is to make programs interesting to casual and die-hard sports fans, he said.

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