Mark Story: $EC Network is not a winner for everyone

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 14, 2014 

If only I were the new SEC Network's programing director, the shows I would have dialed up for you:

  • Would have cut a deal to make sure the launch of the Southeastern Conference's new 24/7/365 cable television network would have included live coverage of the wedding of ex-Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Auburn alumna Katherine Webb — with Paul Finebaum officiating.
  • Created a Bachelor-esque program in which students from all 14 SEC campuses compete to win a date with Tim Tebow — to a church ice cream social.
  • Produced a yearly "Snark Week" in which Southeastern Conference figures would enter the "Snark Tank" in Williams-Brice Stadium where the Head Ball Coach himself, Steve Spurrier, would tell them exactly what he thinks of them.

"Kentucky? Has a heck of a punter, I know that."

Alas, ESPN, owner of the SEC Network, did not seek programming advice from this space.

In a serious vein, the massive strength of Southeastern Conference sports is on clear display in the fact that every major cable provider cut a deal to carry the SEC Network — which launched Thursday evening — from the start. That is unheard of in the start-up of conference-specific cable TV channels.

"It has a chance to be the most successful launch in the history of cable television," Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said last week. "That's exciting for our league."

While there is a lot unknown about how the SEC and ESPN are splitting revenues from the new venture, the expectation is that $EC schools are about to hit the jackpot. In the 2013-14 school year, the Southeastern Conference distributed to its 14 members payouts of $20.9 million each from TV contracts, bowl revenues etc.

With the SEC Network up, Sports Illustrated estimated the enhanced distribution to each league school in the coming fiscal year could be between $15 to $20 million. An analyst at the financial website The Motley Fool guessed it would be more like $28 million extra for all 14 schools.

Yet the SEC TV network launch is not a boon for everyone.

Fans who do not have cable TV are losing access to a lot of SEC games. The old SEC syndicated package of contests — early Saturday afternoon in football; Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon in men's hoops; Sunday afternoon in women's basketball — will no longer exist. The local TV packages of schools, such as the UK IMG Sports Network, are also things of the past.

According to Nielsen, there are 490,920 households with TVs in the Lexington designated market area; there are 674,950 such homes in the Louisville DMA. In Lexington, 8.8 percent of those households have neither traditional cable TV nor an alternate delivery system; that number is 11.5 percent in the Louisville market.

So that means some 43,200 households in the Lexington DMA and some 77,619 in Louisville have likely lost most of their access to televised SEC sports.

The local over-the-air television stations that had contracts to broadcast the hometown university's games — such as WKYT-TV in Lexington — cannot be thrilled about the SEC Network, either. A big part of WKYT's identity in the market has long been its status as "the official UK station."

Just in men's basketball, Channel 27 last year carried three Wildcats men's basketball regular-season games and two exhibitions that were produced by IMG for its UK Network. It also carried four regular-season UK contests via the SEC's syndicated package, plus part of the SEC Tournament.

In a world with the SEC Network, those games will disappear from Channel 27.

"This isn't anything we have not been preparing for. We certainly understand we're in a changing media landscape," WKYT General Manager Chris Mossman said Thursday. "It won't impact the identity of this station in any way, shape or form."

Mossman noted that UK's televised coaching shows with John Calipari, Matthew Mitchell, Mark Stoops etc. ... will still be on Channel 27 this year. "And through CBS, I believe we will still be the local (over-the-air) station that shows the most UK games," he said.

In the meantime, if Mike Slive and ESPN get tired of filling SEC Network time with Alabama football replays and Manning family retrospectives, I have a programming concept that would set the ratings on fire.

The Real World: Wildcat Coal Lodge.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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