The SEC Network will launch in August, and the question on everyone's mind right now is, who will be able to see it?
When the SEC and ESPN announced the creation of the network in May 2013, it included an announcement from commissioner Mike Slive that AT&T U-Verse had already agreed to carry the network upon its launch. The news that U-Verse, which grew to 5.5 million television subscribers during the fourth quarter of 2013, according to its quarterly report, was the first step in getting the network carried throughout the SEC footprint and country.
Good news, right?
Well according to Clay Travis of Fox Sports, the network, which will launch on Aug. 21, hasn't gained much traction with other carriers. In fact, Travis reported on Wednesday that satellite provider DirecTV recently sent an email to curious subscribers stating that it has no plans to carry the network.
After a brief Twitter revolt, DirecTV's Twitter account clarified that it has no plans to carry it as of right now, but it's still in negotiations with the conference.
DIRECTV is still in negotiations to bring SEC Network to customers. Check http://t.co/QDaZagBzUw for updates as season gets closer— DIRECTV (@DIRECTV) February 19, 2014
So should customers of other carriers not yet signed on to carry the SEC Network be concerned?
The plan from its inception was to have a strong regional presence while still serving the entire nation, which means it will likely take agreements with several carriers who do both before the dominoes start to fall.
"We will target the widest distribution possible in the 11-state SEC footprint," ESPN Sr. VP of Programming Justin Connolly said when the network was announced. "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."
With a doubleheader on the network on the first Thursday of the season that includes Texas A&M at South Carolina and Temple at Vanderbilt on Aug. 30, and the SEC-centric SEC Nation pregame show originating from Auburn before its matchup with Arkansas two days later, it's imperative that the network reach its distribution goals before the start of the football season.
This is all about leverage for both sides. When the rubber meets the road and the network hits the air, it's likely that the you will be able to find it on your local provider.
There will obviously be similarities drawn between the SEC Network and the Pac-12 Networks' struggles to get carried nationally by DirecTV. It's not time to cross that bridge yet. The Pac-12 Networks are owned by the conference itself, whereas the SEC Network is owned by ESPN.
Instead of going at it alone, the SEC Network—which has a promotional page set up at GetSECNetwork.com—has ESPN not just along for the ride but driving the bus. The last thing carriers want to do is anger ESPN.
If you want to compare it to the launch of other networks, compare it to the Big Ten Network, which is a joint venture between the conference and Fox, which owns 51 percent. It jumped from 16 million to 30 million subscribers within its first month of existence, becoming the first network to hit 30 million subscribers within its first 30 days in television history, according to the Big Ten.
The nine-day window between its launch date and the first of 45 football games shown on the network will give fans plenty of time to panic and carriers plenty of time to come to agreements with the SEC and ESPN.
Until that time, there's nothing to worry about.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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