What AT&T's Purchase of DirecTV Means for SEC Network

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What AT&T's Purchase of DirecTV Means for SEC Network
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A move that could revolutionize the television industry could have a secondary effect on college football—particularly the SEC Network.

AT&T announced over the weekend that it will acquire DirecTV for $48.5 billion, in a ground-breaking move that will revolutionize the television industry.

"This is a unique opportunity that will redefine the video entertainment industry and create a company able to offer new bundles and deliver content to consumers across multiple screens—mobile devices, TVs, laptops, cars and even airplanes," said AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson in a press release.

This presents an interesting scenario for the SEC Network.

The 24-hour cable network hits the air on Aug. 14, and it already has a deal in place with AT&T U-Verse. Noticeably absent from its list of current providers is DirecTV.

John Amis/Associated Press
SEC commissioner Mike Slive (right)

Does the acquisition of the deal make it more likely that DirecTV customers will get the SEC Network before its launch? 

Of course.

This deal is all about synergy and bundling, and if the two companies have similar carriage deals in place with networks, then achieving that synergy is far more likely. But that's more of a long-term issue that will be solved eventually.

Fans of SEC football programs—all of which will compete on the SEC Network during the first four weeks of the 2014 season—aren't interested in long-term solutions. They want answers now.

Justin Connolly, ESPN's Sr. Vice President of college networks, told Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson (Miss) Clarion-Ledger last week that the then-rumors of the deal wouldn't have much impact.

“Any proposed merger of that size will take a whole lot of working out from a regulatory standpoint, so I don't think the marketplace will change materially between now and then,” Connolly told Kellenberger.

Now that the acquisition is becoming more of a reality, ESPN and the SEC Network are playing things close to the vest.

"We have great relationships with all of the distributors involved but are not going to comment on these deals," the network said in an emailed statement.

As Clay Travis of FoxSports.com points out, AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV won't have an impact on ongoing carriage negotiations.

Until the deal is closed, the two companies are independent. So the pressing issue of whether you'll be able to watch the South Carolina vs. Texas A&M game on Aug. 28 if you're a DirecTV customer is still very much that—a pressing issue.

If you were worried about the deal before, you should be just as worried now. But there's still plenty of time between now an the launch of the SEC Network for deals to be made. It already has deals in place with AT&T, DISH Network, Google Fiber and other rural carriers, which total around 19-20 million based on end-of-the-year reports, and will grow as Google Fiber expands its customer base.

That's impressive in and of itself, considering the Big Ten Network had just over 16 million upon its launch, according to a release on Penn State's website.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Former Florida QB and current SEC Network analyst Tim Tebow

There's already pressure on providers to get the SEC Network, and while the AT&T merger won't have a direct impact, that pressure still exists. When the announcement of the SEC Network's existence took place in May of 2013, AT&T U-Verse was already on board, giving interested fans the option of signing up with the growing cable provider. The deal with DISH only created more pressure from both a local and national perspective.

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These things take time, and when the rubber meets the road and the network gets closer to launch, it's hard to imagine the SEC Network not being picked up by all major providers. 

Unlike it's Pac-12 counterpart, which is wholly owned by the conference, the SEC Network is owned by ESPN—which can leverage countless other networks under the Disney umbrella to get the network carried. 

SEC Media Days from July 14-17 in Hoover, Ala. always serves as the de facto kickoff to the college football season. This year, it will also act as a one-month warning and a week-long infomercial for the SEC Network. That month between Media Days and the launch of the network is crunch time for your provider.

You know you can get SEC Network and they know you can get it elsewhere, so there's not much to worry about quite yet.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

 

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