All systems are go for the launch of the ACC Network, according to the conference and ESPN. The plan all along has been for the ACC Network to debut in 2019. Recent layoffs at ESPN led some, such as ESPN observer Jim Miller, to speculate that the target date could be in doubt. But ESPN president John Skipper confirmed a linear launch (watching programming when scheduled on the channel it’s offered) for the ACC Network, according to conference commissioner John Swofford.
That launch appears to be on course, with the ACC Network securing its first distribution deals. Those agreements are with digital video providers, though ESPN has not announced which outlets will be carrying the ACC Network. According to SportsBusiness Journal, ESPN would only say that the deals are with providers who have carriage deals past 2019.
ESPN has agreements with Hulu, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and YouTube TV to carry its programming. That would lead to a presumption that those providers will carry the ACC Network, though that hasn’t been confirmed. SBJ’s John Ourand and Michael Smith point out, however, that Disney owns 30 percent of Hulu, so it wouldn’t be a wild assumption to figure that the streaming provider would carry the ACC Network.
No, digital and over-the-top outlets are not the same as the ACC Network being carried on cable and satellite providers. But these agreements help ESPN build a case for the ACC Network to be carried on the larger cable distributors. Those who don’t might face losing subscribers who want to watch ACC sports on their cable and satellite providers. If it’s not available, maybe they’ll seek the content they want through digital video.
Before the ACC Network’s 2019 launch, ESPN will have new affiliate deals with three cable providers, according to SBJ. Verizon Fios’ agreement is up at the end of 2018, Charter in the middle of 2019, and AT&T toward the end of 2019. One point of the negotiations will likely be rates charged to subscribers for the ACC Network. Currently, ESPN charges subscribers a reported 72 cents per month for the SEC Network, and Big Ten Network has a 43 cents monthly charge per subscriber. The ACC Network’s rate is expected to come in lower than that.
ESPN and ACC executives tout the conference’s recent successes — notably Clemson winning college football’s national championship and North Carolina winning the national title in college basketball — to cable providers, along with a national footprint that extends from New England to southern Florida, while reaching into New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky. That covers more than 40 percent of U.S. households, according to the ACC. A successful launch of the network could bring up to $10 million to each member school and provide nine-figure profits to ESPN. Is it any wonder that there’s a strong push to stick to the planned 2019 launch?