In an announcement Thursday in Atlanta, the SEC told the world it had created its own branch of the Federal Reserve—a branch more commonly known as the 24-hour SEC Network, which will launch on cable and satellite providers in August 2014.
The new network has already reached a deal to be carried by AT&T U-Verse customers, and is expected to be widely distributed inside the SEC footprint and on sports tiers nationwide.
But while the conference celebrated the event in an event that mimicked a mini-SEC Media Days, the Big Ten sat back, laughed and counted its money. After all, the Big Ten Network—of which Fox has a 49 percent ownership stake—has been in existence since 2007. Its existence is one of the primary reasons the Big Ten has paid out nearly $5 million more per school in 2012, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and AL.com.
So what can the SEC copy and what can it avoid from the infancy of the Big Ten Network?
First and foremost, partnering with ESPN is a major plus.
According to SEC, it will be the first conference network that is run by a conference's primary media rights holder, as the network will originate from ESPN's Charlotte, N.C. offices. That means more synergy, more crossover content and more continuity with the programs offered on the cable network.
Familiarity is key.
Talent on set during highlight cut-ins on Saturdays will likely be the same talent on set during the week on a variety of shows. On-air personalities will become synonymous with the SEC, and that familiarity will create a comfort level for viewers. Comfort creates routine, and getting viewers into a routine is the ultimate goal of television programmers.
Announcing the network now, with 16 months to prepare, will also allow network plenty of time to get on carriers nationwide. The SEC's power, coupled with the fact that this isn't a new idea and is being run by ESPN, will allow the carriage issues that have plagued other conference networks during their launch to be minimized.
The Pac-12 Network is currently embroiled in a battle with DirecTV and the Big Ten Network was available to 16 million subscribers at the time of launch. That number jumped to 30 million within the first month of its existence, but the SEC hopes to exceed that number upon the launch of the SEC Network.
The SEC couldn't estimate how many people will get the SEC Network when it hits the air in August 2014, but ESPN Sr. VP of Programming Justin Connolly is confident that it will be widely-distributed.
"We will target the widest distribution possible in the 11-state SEC footprint," Connolly said. "So carried on a similar level of service as ESPN. Then outside of that 11-state footprint, target a level of service that might be comparable to where ESPNU is today."
From a content perspective, the Big Ten Network has given the SEC a good footprint to follow.
Sport-specific pre- and postgame studio shows, game replays from the current season and classic matchups from a variety of sports keep Big Ten fans up-to-date on the current landscape, but keep the history and tradition alive and well.
The Big Ten may be more of a punchline than a power in the minds of some SEC fans, but the two conferences do share a similar history which will play well on a 24-hour network.
It'd still be nice to throw some humor in the mix for the SEC Cable Network. Maybe a show featuring the "best of SEC coaches shows" or "best of SEC coaches commercials," in the same format of America's Funniest Home Videos. After all, with more than 1,000 events per year, you have to have some quality rain delay material.
The Big Ten Network's existence has provided invaluable information to the SEC on what to do and—more importantly—what not to do. Since its inception in 2007, the Big Ten Network has tweaked its lineup to create a very fan-friendly experience.
If the SEC is smart, it will use the Big Ten as a model for programming and then get creative from there.
Barrett Sallee is the Lead SEC College Football Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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