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Pac 12 Network & Big Ten Network awaiting arrival of reason

Unfortunately in the last week, no progress has been made in the two major channel distribution battles affecting college football fans. Barring any 11th hour surprises, Big Ten Network will enter its second straight week being off of Dish and Pac 12 fans will be without upstart Pac 12 Network with DirecTV, Charter, ATT, and Verizon.

We've been covering these dustups throughout the fall as football fans get caught between posturing between conferences and distributors. Here's our updated analysis on what's going on behind the scenes based on what we're hearing.

BTN And Dish

It wouldn't surprise me if a deal got done sooner rather than later. There is probably a 70/30 chance something gets done by week six of the season.

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If you recall, BTN and Dish twice extended the existing agreement as they closed in on an extension. Those extensions were only agreed upon as they made progress towards a long term deal which makes you think they've narrowed the negotiating gap considerably. We correctly assumed the channel's last second disappearance was BTN pulling the channel having grown wary of Dish stalling.

So what's transpired since? These two sides really don't say much unless it's hours before a football game you're going to miss, so we're in the dark here. 

BTN's outrage is mild compared to others who have been put in this position and it's only one week in and with a pretty weak slate of games before conference play gets going next week. While something could get done to get games on the air by tomorrow, I think the more likely timeframe would be towards the end of next week. 

Fans do want to see out of conference games, but conference games are a much bigger draw. Basketball is also not too far away and that's going to only increase the amount of the Dish customer base who consider leaving as Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana will join the major football program fanbases who may be compelled to switch providers. 

It's not too much of a stretch to say that Dish is losing around 15,000 subscribers a week and that will add up quickly. Also have to keep in mind they could end up BLEEDING subscribers in Central Ohio.

Buckeye fans are fanatical about missing their team play. But, Dish also isn't carrying the local CBS affiliate. So, if you're a Buckeye fan who likes the Bengals or Browns, enjoys watching SEC football, 60 Minutes, whatever 1 hour drama that my mom thinks is the best show on television, and perhaps also dabbles in a little AMC, Dish is the equivalent of an apocalyptic wasteland.

On the flip side, Dish has an opportunity having added the Pac 12 Network. Folks who really want the channel (especially in rural areas where cable is not available) may be inclined to drop DirecTV, who hasn't added the Pac 12 Network. Unfortunately any gains there are probably going to be a fraction of what they lose with Big Ten fans fleeing – in particular the total programming implosion in Ohio. 

Dish has struggled to gain subscribers over the years and their reputation has taken a beating thanks to a prolonged negative advertising campaign volleyed by DirecTV and AMC.

Given Dish and BTN are close to a deal, you would think they'd see the value in hammering out an extension and go on the offensive looking to add pissed off Pac 12 fans, which would lead to some nice subscriber growth.

Pac 12 Network And Charter

Word is that Charter isn't really motivated to get a deal done and waiting to see what shakes out elsewhere.

Verizon and ATT

There isn't much new happening, although as DirecTV and Pac 12 Network dig in for an elongated battle, both are chewing on the idea of adding the channel and hoping to add subscribers. Given both companies are mulling over their options, Pac 12 Network doesn't seem to be putting too much PR pressure while they figure it out. It's a coin flip that one adds the channel before basketball season.

Escalating Tension With DirecTV

This is getting ugly and it's baffling the situation has devolved to what it is. To recap, it seemed that Pac 12 Network was on their way to a deal with DirectTV as the season approached when they decided to take a wait and see approach at the last moment. This was somewhat unexpected as DTV markets itself as the provider for sports fans and insiders thought a deal was imminent either before the season or not too long after.

I'm not sure what DTV's rationale was in walking away from the table, but whatever they were thinking got thrown out the window when rival Dish cut a deal ahead of DTV, a very out of character move for Dish. Jim Carlisle from the Ventura County Star seemed to have a good grasp for how this changed the tone of the negotiations:

"At one time, DirecTV was the "go-to" provider for sports fans. It seemed like whenever a new channel was launched, DirecTV was the first to add it. Now, with a glut of new networks and ever-increasing fees to carry them, the company is much more wary.

The Pac-12 Networks may have soured negotiations with DirecTV in what they gave to Dish Network to get it to sign up.

The agreement, the conference said, provides Dish with "exclusive category sponsorship for Pac-12 athletic programs." That includes stadium signage and logo rights with each of the member schools.

That might make DirecTV a little more insistent upon getting some perks of its own to sign up."

There is bad blood between Dish and DirecTV and there is no doubt the Dish deal has turned off DirectTV into doing a deal. The Pac 12 Network needed to get a deal done with one of the two companies given people in rural areas needed an option to get the channel and cut the one that was first presented to them.

DirecTV's warped reaction to the Dish deal likely goes something like this: Dish is trash and we can't believe that you drunk dialed Dish! You gave our chief competitor exclusive rights, and now you want us to come back to the table thinking this deal helps your position? We should ALWAYS be your first priority and not your second option. Now you're telling our customers to leave thinking that will break our will? Not going to happen. You could have been patient and more flexible in negotiations and gained 19 million subscribers but you blew your wad with Dish getting 5 million less subscribers. Now you'll pay. Nobody puts baby in the corner.

As both sides dig in, DirecTV actually has something going for them. First off, they gave away the Sunday Ticket for anyone who switched, hence they can lose subscribers because of this and still have a net gain. Also, Dish's falling out with BTN means they'll get some subscribers the other way too. 

However, now we've reached the point where this is a pride thing that really has nothing to do with demand and economics. 

Credit Pac 12 Network, who has outclassed DirecTV over the past couple of weeks in terms of winning the PR war. DTV is now backed into a corner as their biggest cable competitors and Dish have validated Pac 12 Network not pricing the channel too aggressively. 

Worst yet, DTV's side of the story isn't fooling anyone with half a brain. DirecTV foolishly has trotted out a pair of half baked attempts to point the finger at the Pac 12. The first attempt being the a la carte pricing/ On Demand position, which is just bullshit. The second mistake is a landing page of misinformation that was so egregious they've actually removed most of the information they had on the page after being called out by many media folks

While a lot of the nonsense on the DTV FAQ page was maddening, the most egregious was their claim that Pac 12 Network only broadcasted a fraction of the 144 football games the conference played. There is only one problem with that, the conference plays substantially less games than 144. Clearly DTV multiplied 12 teams by 12 games and said "WE KNOW OUR MULTIPLICATION TABLES AND THE PAC 12 DOESN'T AIR THAT MANY GAMES!"

But when a Pac 12 team plays another Pac 12 team, shockingly that is only one football game and not two, yet in DTV World it was counted twice. With each team having 9 conference games, they overstated the amount of football games by 54. Saying the network only shows around 30 games out of 144 sounds a lot better from DTV's side of the table than showing 30 games out of 90.

Many observers have called out DTV for this type of distortion as they clearly feel the need to grasp onto whatever they think will fool fans into thinking their position makes sense.

The a la carte line is another attempt to distract consumers. I'd love a la carte pricing on the Pac 12 Network, but do you really think the Pac 12 Network is going to be the first non porn or movie premium channel to become an a la carte channel? There are probably 60 channels I'd give back if a la carte pricing was even realistic, but of course it isn't, as that's how the channels and distributors make their money. It certainly sounds nice that DTV is offering this totally sane/innovative pricing concept, but it's just a PR move and nothing that any channel would accept.

So How Will This Play Out And What Is DTV Thinking?

DirecTV is going to hold out for a good while. They seem to think fans only really care about USC and Oregon and with USC losing to Stanford, they've somehow gained leverage. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that UCLA and Arizona have big basketball fanbases AND are undefeated and ranked at the present time. 

As long as subscriber gains from the Sunday Ticket for free promotion and Dish's ineptitude keep them growing, DTV is content to at least try to break the will of the Pac 12 Network. It's just not sitting well with them that they did a deal with Dish rather than kiss the ring that is DTV.

With the SEC Network in the works, Fox close to making Speed an all sports channel due for a big increase, and this new Time Warner channel that will broadcast Laker games, DTV sees the writing on the wall that more sports channels will appear on the horizon. 

While DTV's brand is sports, that's becoming pretty damn expensive as we're soon going to be in a place where more than $10 or more of your monthly bill will go directly to sports channels. It's not crazy to think that by 2020, that number could reach $15 and DTV is flexing some muscle now (as they did with Versus in 2010), hoping they can drive down prices in the future with new launches.

I wouldn't be surprised if Pac 12 fans aren't leaving DTV at frequency that is alarming to DTV yet. The majority of my friends went to Pac 12 schools and it's been a bit surprising how many legitimate fans still don't know about the channel or are unaware if they get it. Not known for having the same zeal as some of the other major BCS conferences, years of being relegated to small audiences on obscure channels has lowered the bar in terms of fan awareness of Pac 12 programming. I know some reading this are wondering how a true fan could not know of the channel and if they get it, but I'll share this story as an example.

Back in 2009, a UCLA grad with Dish called me and asked if he could watch the UCLA game (on my secondary living room TV). The game was on Fox Sports Alternate and the game was tape delayed by 2 hours. Fox Sports Alternate and a tape delay? Sheesh. And this was 2009!

Worse yet, I was watching live football on the larger television which had the ticker of scores so my friend was forced to hold up a binder blocking his view of the scores on that television to not spoil the UCLA score. After years of having the second and third tier games hard to find, not televised, syndicated on random channels, and tape delayed at times, fans assumed there wouldn't be a silver bullet solution like the Pac 12 Network. Even if they were aware of the channel, having been given second rate television treatment for so long may have lessened the outrage and expectations of distribution.

In a perfect world, Dish would solve their issue with BTN and shut the door on Big Ten fans leaving for DTV. This would increase DTV's urgency to get a deal done with the Pac 12 as adding Big Ten fans would no longer offset their loss of angry Pac 12 fans. As Pac 12 fans leave DTV for Dish and BTN fans leave Dish for DTV, both distributors may be content to merely trade customers.

That said, they way the rhetoric has unfolded the last week between DTV and Pac 12 Network, it feels like this could drag out for a good while. While I think a deal in 2012 is still possible between the two, you'll recall Big Ten Network took a full year to appear on Comcast and Time Warner and we may see something similar here. 

Ben Koo

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - CEO of @Bloguin, GM at @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.

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