Longhorn Network distribution deal is near
BY KEVIN BENZ
08.23.11 | 09:02 pm
As fans and sports columnists gnash their teeth, the Longhorn Network (aka: ESPN) has been working late hours trying to get their network distributed not just in Austin but nationwide before they flip the switch on Friday morning (August 26). Today, the buzz is decidedly on the side of getting it done, and several sources tell me the Time Warner Cable deal is down to the "nitty gritty" details, if not a deal with Comcast (Houston's main cable provider) or Direct TV.In other words, with Time Warner Cable, the hard work is done.
Today, University of Texas Athletic Director Deloss Dodds said as much in a press conference announcing an unrelated partnership with St. David's Hospital. "You might have heard we will launch the Longhorn Network Friday morning," he said, "and it looks like it will be available to you. We have great news coming, but we can't announce anything yet."
Word is that announcement will happen Thursday.
Yesterday theSports BusinessJournalreported that several deals with small cable outlets have already been inked and deals with Verizon and Grande in San Marcos (covering part of the Austin area) are very close.
No one should be surprised at how long this has taken. These nationwide deals are enormously complicated (and this is a nationwide deal) and when two goliaths like Time Warner Cable and ESPN / ABC disagree, often it's the viewer that gets lost in the fog of self-interest.
And don't blame Time Warner Cable here in Austin, they have little to do with it. This negotiation is happening among the biggest of big-wigs in New York not Austin. Most often deals like these are struck as the clock ticks down. That's just the nature of our modern cable TV business.
And it is big business. Reports suggest ESPN asked cable systems to pay 40 cents per subscriber per month for the Longhorn Network to be carried on expanded basic cable in Texas (that means nearly everyone gets it, no one pays extra for it). Do a little math here — that's $4.80 per year per subscriber. Time Warner Cable, Texas largest cable provider serves around 2 million expanded basic subscribers in Texas. Multiply that by $4.80 and you get close to $10 million from just one provider in the state. That's real money — and you wonder why your cable bill keeps going up?
Beyond the dollars, discussions involve what channel to assign, 1647 or 10 (which would you want?), whether to include it in a sports package (where only sports enthusiasts pay for it)or basic cable and what other channels are involved (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN News, Disney, ABC Family are all related).
Speaking to representatives on all sides, I can tell you there is no one involved who wants to face the ire of a multitude of Longhorn fans descending from the stands at DKR smelling blood in the water. Not getting it done would be a public relations disaster for everyone, including the LHN.
Direct TV customers however may be out of luck. ESPN's contract with DTV ends this year and reports suggest ESPN has no interest in negotiating the Longhorn Network until then. Enjoy your NFL Season Ticket folks.
Otherwise, do not worry. There is too much on the line for this not to happen