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Out the Gate: ESPN's Longhorn Network

7/18/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

ESPN says it is gaining yardage as it pounds the distribution line for the University
of Texas Longhorn Network, but has yet
to reach affiliate paydirt.

“We’re talking to everybody, big and small,”
David Preschlack, ESPN’s executive vice president
of affiliate sales and marketing, said.
“We’re comfortable with where we are [some
six weeks] before the Aug. 26 launch.”

The first sports channel dedicated completely
to one university, Longhorn Network
was formed through a 20-year, $300 million
pact under which ESPN will own and operate
the service. Signed in January, the contract
was negotiated with Texas and the
Longhorns’ multimedia rights holder, IMG
College. It has yet to announce a carriage
agreement.

In addition to the linear service, which
will carry up to 200 live events annually,
including a pair of UT football games during
the 2011 season, plus basketball action
and a host of Olympic sports, ESPN also will
launch a dedicated website. Moreover, Preschlack
said, ESPN is pitching other digital
offerings in the form of a Longhorn version of
its ESPN Watch app, as well as a broadband
service for high school football games in Texas,
quite the popular pastime in the Lone
Star State a la Friday Night Lights.

Satellite carriers DirecTV and Dish Network
aside, Texas is serviced by such distributors
as Time Warner Cable, Comcast,
Verizon Communications’ FiOS TV, AT&T’s
U-verse TV, Suddenlink Communications,
Charter Communications and Grande Communications,
which provides some video
and data services to the University of Texas
in Austin, the site of the Longhorn Network.

ESPN is seeking a monthly sub fee of 40
cents for expanded basic carriage in Texas
and adjoining states, and sports tier positioning
in other markets, according to people
familiar with the negotiations. Such a model
is akin to the model deployed by the Big
Ten Network, which charges a significantly
higher license fee to providers serving customers
in the states within the conference
footprint — 70 to 75 cents — and far less for
distributors carrying it outside that area.

Preschlack declined to specify rate cards
or positioning for the network, saying only
that there is “great interest in the University
of Texas in the region and beyond. There
is a Longhorn following throughout the nation.
We believe [Longhorn Network] should
be [as] broadly distributed as possible.”

VIDEO APP COMING

 He said the Longhorn equivalent of Watch
ESPN would be authenticated to the network’s
subs, with such content not part of the
flagship network’s app, which has already
generated 2.3 million downloads. Preschlack
didn’t put a timetable on when such a Longhorn
app could come out of the digital corral.
The programmer is lining up the big guns
to launch the Longhorn Network; its Emmy-
winning ESPN College Game Day crew
of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso,
Desmond Howard and Erin Andrews
will join the channel’s on-air team of Lowell
Galindo, Samantha Steele and Kevin
Dunn for previews of the Longhorns’ upcoming
football season and its home opener
vs. Rice, slated for Saturday, Sept. 3, at 6 p.m.
Texas coaches, players and former studentathletes
will also be on hand for the twohour
special.

September