On Thursday, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports made the rumored SEC Network almost officially official by reporting that commissioner Mike Slive did indeed plan to release the league's television network plans in mid-April.
You know, after the NCAA tournament fervor has died down and before the NFL draft grabs the stage, the SEC will snatch the spotlight with news of its network.
The conference will be joining the likes of the Big Ten and the Pac-12 in the "own network" ranks. Good for the SEC, as this is expected to be another feather in the cap of the behemoth that the SEC has grown into. Those expectations are largely true. The conference is set to rake in money hand over fist again.
Mike Slive and the SEC, like the two conferences before them, plan on making bank off the current climate.
The forced carriage, bundling of channels and subscribers fees earned off people who do not even realize they are bankrolling the ordeal—that is why the Big Ten had a banner year in 2012. That is why conferences are expanding with television markets in mind.
If a conference can shoehorn its network on to the base tier of folks watching cable or satellite, then it can fill its pockets with the fees of people who watch or do not watch. Ratings are nice, but ultimately who cares? You are already giving the conference money for the channel that you didn't even know you had.
As long as this system exists, there is money to be made in a relatively easy fashion. Relatively, of course, because there can be friction like the Pac-12 versus DirecTV kerfuffle that has been going on since the network's launch.
It is unlikely that sports-crazed SEC Country has the same hurdles as the Pac-12 Network as far as forced bundling goes. That's not a knock on the West Coast and DirecTV's resistance, but rather a nod to the SEC. A conference that, like the Big Ten, has a brand of fan that will change providers or make vocal protests about not being able to watch teams compete.
That means, backed by ESPN, expect the likes of Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Missouri to have the network readily available. Given the transplant nature and proximity to major SEC hubs of Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina, North Carolina could be in play as well.
There is money to be made, folks.
At least until the formula changes.
Services like hulu and Netflix are already forcing their way into the marketplace as a true alternative to television. People are looking for ways, including on-demand services and online streaming, to consume sports without paying for channels they will never watch. As smart televisions become more functional and more attractively priced, a new era of television will face the network juggernauts that are currently in control.
With a la carte television being experimented in Europe and Americans clamoring for the same entertainment freedom, the dawning of a new day in television consumption is quickly approaching. When that happens, the time of forcing everyone to subsidize a product, whether they use it or not, through bundling channels will be numbered.
When this happens is the question that no one knows the answer to. Conferences are in a good position; they are aligned with their respective network backers and the cable-satellite providers in hoping to stave off the changes.
After all, bundling makes everyone rich.
However, as consumers become more intelligent with respect to television consumption and the options for savvy viewers increase in number, we will see how long conferences and networks can fight a shift.
Change will not be good. Change will not help the guys who are currently on top.
So, yes, the SEC Network is going to capitalize on a space in the market. It is going to make good money for the league and help act as a promotion tool. The nonrevenue sports will get more games shown, which is always a plus in my book.
The only question mark is: How long? How long can the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 bank on networks built on a slowly shifting landscape?
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