Canzano: Hate for Pac-12 Networks could turn to love
Former Fox Sports Networks president speaks out
You hate the Pac-12 Network? I don’t like it, either. But I’ve realized over the years that we’ve been all kinds of wrong about the conference’s television entity.
We don’t really hate it.
We hate that we can’t easily get it.
The network is well-produced. It has talented editors, producers, directors, camera operators and on-air talent. The technology and infrastructure is cutting edge. But when you discover your college football team will play Saturday on the network, you cringe and complain. Justifiably so. Because the distribution was a fail from the launch.
Hold that thought.
Bob Thompson is retired. The University of Oregon graduate and former president of the Fox Sports Networks has rare insight into media-rights negotiations and the world of live-sports programming.
Thompson worked as a cable operator, a network executive, and has negotiated hundreds of deals with sports leagues, distributors, and conferences. He’s a consultant now and a tremendous resource when it comes to understanding what might be happening with the Pac-12 Conference’s mysterious and ongoing media-rights negotiations.
“I think it’s pretty clear by how long this thing’s taking that it’s not the same package they have right now,” he said on Monday.
It won’t be a repeat of the Pac-12’s current FOX-ESPN package, Thompson said.
“If that was the case you could do that deal in a matter of months because all you’re talking about is: ‘What’s the price?’ Because the splits would stay the same. Pac-12 Networks would stay the same. There’s no new guy coming in to get into the selection process.”
Thompson gave a wide-ranging interview on the Canzano & Wilner podcast (listen here). He spoke about the value of potential Pac-12 expansion candidates, the Oregon-Washington dilemma, and nailed down what he thinks every Pac-12 member will ultimately receive in distributions (Hint: it’s respectable). But it’s the stuff Thompson said about the Pac-12 Networks that caught my attention.
“It’s clear there’s been a sea change,” he said.
Thompson believes we’re approaching an inflection point in the television industry. The height of the “bundle” on satellite-cable providers was as much as 105 million households for some channels. That’s down to about 72 million now.
“We’re bleeding at a rate of 1.92 million (households) per quarter,” Thompson said.
Viewers are pivoting away from traditional linear programming. It’s why Thompson is predicting that ESPN will eventually put its regular programming on its ESPN+ app.
“I think you will see a channel on the ESPN+ app that will basically be a simulcast of the feed you would get if you were getting it through DirecTV and Comcast,” he said.
I imagine a fresh-out-of-college executive sitting in an ESPN management meeting at this very moment, pounding a fist on the table, and saying, “We’re falling behind!!!”
It’s a rally cry I hope extends to the Pac-12 Conference, too. Because your viewing frustrations and the conference’s desire for additional revenue point to the same solution — the Pac-12 Networks.
Ironic, isn’t it?
The very entity that we’ve all come to loathe now has the conference in an interesting and advantageous position. In the last decade, viewing habits and technology evolved. The conference woke up in 2022 with Amazon streaming NFL Thursday Night Football and Apple cutting a $2.5 billion deal with Major League Soccer.
It’s exactly the right time to sell the Pac-12 Networks content. Amazon and Apple would presumably love to have the programming, but neither has the infrastructure to produce 800-plus sporting events a year.
It’s an interesting marriage for that reason. Apple currently airs Major League Baseball games, but they’re produced by the MLB Network. And MLS will produce the soccer games it sold to Apple.
Said Thompson: “The Pac-12 Networks present a very viable option to be the producing entity for the package that ends up on the streamer.”
The core of the conference’s media rights are still likely bound for a traditional provider. But 36-or-so football games we normally see on the Pac-12 Networks and the rest of the conference’s Olympic-sports programming feel right for Amazon or Apple.
What are the two things Pac-12 football fans hate the most?
A) Late kickoffs;
and B) the Pac-12 Networks.
I find it interesting that Amazon or Apple could swoop in, buy the Pac-12 Networks content, air those football games in more reasonable Saturday time slots, and solve both problems.
I’m with the college kids on this one. I’ll bet you are, too. The Pac-12 has fallen behind and positioned itself over the last decade in a way that hasn’t worked for fans. I’ll bet the Pac-12 Networks is tired of feeling like the bad guy, too.
A couple of other things…
• PUNCHES THROWN: Former Oregon running back and three-time Super Bowl champion LeGarrette Blount was involved in a post-game altercation at a 12-under youth football game in Arizona. Blount, who was involved in a similar incident in college, was captured on a drone video throwing punches in the handshake line after the game.
Blount issued an apology: “As a leader, coach, father and a role model I understand my actions are unacceptable. I hope and pray for your understanding and forgiveness and plan to continue to be a positive impact in the lives of our youth.”
• NO CHANCE?: We should know in the coming days whether Chance Nolan will be the starter this week for Oregon State’s football game at Stanford. He left last Saturday’s game vs. Utah with a neck injury. Nolan has six interceptions in his last two games. I wrote a column about the QB woes at Oregon State.
Nolan’s confidence is shot. But I think he can regain it. Third-year freshman Ben Gulbranson is the back-up. He has some nice upside, but ideally needs more time.
Regardless of who starts at QB for the Beavers, I think the coaching staff needs to re-commit to running the football. OSU is at its best on offense when it’s pounding the rock and using play-action.
• BIGGEST GAMES: Utah at UCLA (12:30 p.m. PT on FOX) is the biggest game of the Pac-12 football week. I’ll tune in to see the Utes attempt to do what Washington could not get done last weekend — beat the Bruins at home.
The second most-interesting game of the week? My vote is for Washington State at USC (4:30 p.m. PT on FOX). Victories by the Utes and Trojans would set up a Pac-12 showdown in Salt Lake City on Oct. 15.
I appreciate all who have supported, subscribed and shared my new, independent, endeavor with friends and families. If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing. Your support allows me to go where the stories take us.