Mike Slive’s had a pretty good week. The NCAA is in the process of capitulating to the power conferences on governance. And Comcast is taking on the SEC Network.
SEC Network landed its biggest fish Friday, announcing a long-term carriage deal with the country’s biggest distributor. Comcast will carry the channel at its Aug. 14 launch on its expanded basic tier within SEC territory and digital basic outside of it. Sources say the channel’s rate card is at $1.40 per subscriber per month within the SEC’s 11-state footprint and $0.25 per month outside of it.
That ain’t exactly chump change. It’s likely that DirecTV isn’t far behind, either. All in all, it sounds like the SEC is having a smoother rollout of its broadcast operation than either the Big Ten or the Pac-12 had. And that may be the result of a deliberate tactical decision Slive and the presidents made. They don’t own the SEC Network outright, as the Pac-12 owns its. Nor are they the controlling end of a partnership like the Big Ten is. Instead, the conference has elected to maintain the role of content provider and leave production in the hands of ESPN.
What’s gained by that? A shitload of leverage.
The Comcast deal also includes TV Everywhere rights, allowing for live streaming of the channel on Xfinity TV Go and WatchESPN (John Ourand, Staff Writer). FOXSPORTS.com’s Clay Travis noted news that DirecTV is close to a deal is “square with the private comments of SEC and ESPN executives, who are confident that a deal is near as well.” DirecTV’s negotiations with SEC Network “are part of a larger negotiation with the other ESPN networks.”
In other words, if you want to carry ESPN – and if you’re a distributor, that’s not really a choice – you’d best resign yourself to finding a niche in your product line for the SEC Network. The good thing is that if you play ball, ESPN has plenty of extra sweeteners to toss in the pot for you. And that’s basically what’s happening.
With the Comcast deal in place, an agreement with DirecTV “would mean that every major cable and satellite company — excluding Time Warner, which has remained fairly quiet so far — would carry the SEC Network.” It also would allow ESPN and the SEC to “hit their goal of roughly 75 million cable and satellite subscribers at launch.”
That’s an easier sell with ESPN on your side than without. (Note that “DirecTV, which has more than 20 million subscribers, carries the Big Ten Network but not the Pac 12 Network.”)
The SEC took a more conservative approach to establishing its broadcast arm than its predecessors. And while it may be hard to say whether that’s a decision it’ll come to regret down the road if having more control equals greater profitability, at present it’s probably more valuable to get the sign ups done as smoothly as possible.