The Pac-12 Networks The Pac-12 Networks.

One of the big questions around the exits of the 10 schools departing the Pac-12 ahead of the 2024-25 academic year (and the court ruling and eventual settlement turning conference administration over to the remaining Pac-2 of Oregon State and Washington State) is what’s ahead for the Pac-12 Networks. And we now have some clarity there. The networks appear to indeed be going away as a distribution model, but their studio facilities will continue operating and producing content (and, presumably, at least some P12N personnel will be involved in that) focused on the remaining schools.

There’s some important background here. Those networks launched to a lot of hype in August 2012, partly thanks to an unusual business model that would wind up hurting them. (That model is that beyond their national feed, they currently have six regional networks; we’ll get to the ups and downs that has seen in a bit.) But they never lived up to expectations on the distribution or revenue side, and were often cited as a factor in why so many schools eventually left the Pac-12.

However, Pac-12 commissioner Teresa Gould (a former conference deputy commissioner who takes over the conference leadership role officially Friday, following the ouster of much-criticized predecessor George Kliavkoff) has now indicated that she plans to keep the P12 Nets studio going for at least the next academic year. Unsurprisingly, Gould said the studio will now be focused on remaining Pac-12 schools Oregon State and Washington State. Many on Twitter indicated that would see the networks themselves (or at least some form of them) remain, but Jon Wilner of The (San Jose) Mercury News indicates this is just about the studio:

Perhaps the most substantive development came from Gould, who revealed that the Pac-12 Networks’ production studio in San Ramon, Calif., will remain active for the 2024-25 school year. Although the networks will cease to exist as a media distribution company, the studio will support Washington State and Oregon State “with live events and content,” Gould said. (No specifics were provided.)

There’s definitely some logic to that. This fits with the general transition mode the Pac-12 is in at the moment. They have a two-year grace period from the NCAA to operate as a football conference with just two members, and they’ve struck a scheduling alliance with the Mountain West, which may or may not lead to a more permanent combination. Gould’s contract is also for two years.

And during this span, Oregon State and Washington State will likely need to produce their home football games. Where those will air is not clear yet. But if it’s somewhere other than ESPN or Fox, they’ll probably need to do their own production. And there are plenty of P12 Nets personnel with experience producing football games, and that should make for an easier sell to, say, streaming platforms that don’t already have production infrastructure.

It also seems reasonably smart to have the networks “cease to exist as a media distribution company” (presuming that that means ending the linear channels). Yes, there’s a world where they could have rolled on in some very limited way, perhaps with the combination of the Oregon (formerly Oregon State and Oregon) and Washington (formerly Washington State and Washington) regional feeds and the national feed as one channel. Texas made a one-school channel work for a decade, even if that’s soon going away. And this has double the potential content of that.

But the distribution and per-subscriber fee numbers here were already so bad even before this exodus that there seemingly wasn’t a lot to be gained there. And even the idea of a Pac-2 Network was drawing jokes Thursday (based on tweets about the network surviving, not just the studio):

There’s definitely some logic to the conference continuing to hold on to at least some of what they have on the media side during this time of transition. (Although, it’s unclear just what that will mean; the networks have already seen significant layoffs this year, and more are presumably ahead with them ending their linear ambitions.) It’s much harder to rebuild something after destroying it entirely, and the Pac-2 certainly still have some current media needs. And if the conference does wind up revived through a MWC merger/annexation or the addition of other schools, that infrastructure could be useful to have. So keeping on with some of what they have for now while they figure out a future makes some sense.

With that said, though, it’s worth considering just how poorly the Pac-12 Networks plan has worked out for the conference. That included incredibly low payments to schools. And a big part of that was about that “innovative” structure of one national network and six regional ones (each for a pair of teams), which worked fine with some providers, but was untenable for DirecTV (despite a lot of false starts over the years).

The P12 Nets found some minor success with deals with the likes of Sling and Comcast, and even some international deals, but the Sling deal presented terms DTV was unwilling to accept, the Comcast deal led to its own overpayment scandal, and even the limited distribution the conference eventually got came with an absolutely minimal per-subscriber fee. And their arguments in defense of their failures were extremely lame. And on the content side, they cut and cut and cut, and their original vision was not as much in evidence any more over the past few years.

Of course, most of that is not about the production itself. The networks often produced fine content (although not always, but every network makes mistakes). But the bigger issue here was about strategic distribution and approach failures, starting with ex-commissioner Larry Scott and continuing on through Kliavkoff.

And on the production front alone, the San Ramon facility here is something they should have done long ago. The Pac-12 lost an incredible amount of money on its downtown San Francisco headquarters for both the conference and the network before finally coming to the conclusion reached by most major college athletics conferences that it’s better to have offices and production locales in less expensive environments. And now that they have that, there’s some logic to keeping that.

So it makes sense that Gould is going to keep at least some version of P12N going from a production side (but not a distribution one) for now. And that will certainly provide content that Oregon State and Washington State can at least put out on their digital channels. And there’s a good chance it will be distributed beyond that, likely in some form of FAST channel or subscription on-demand service associated with whoever grabs those schools’ home football games.

And this provides the opportunity to rebuild a full P12N if the conference is able to pull off a rebuild in one way or another. But this does provide a good opportunity to look back at the Pac-12 Networks so far. And it also presents a chance to examine all of the ways they failed to meet what the schools and the conferences had hoped for them.

[The Mercury News]


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.