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Pierce: Fox changes tactics; Pac-12 Network does not

Published August 20, 2013 3:11 pm

Sports on TV • FS1 strikes deal with DirecTV; P12N tells fans to dump satellite TV provider.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As it turns out, local sports fans had nothing to worry about when it comes to Fox Sports 1.

Well, local fans who subscribe to cable or satellite TV.

The new, all-sports channel that launched on Saturday will air the Utah-USU game on Aug. 29. It will air three of the Utes' first five football games this fall. And there was a definite sky-is-falling mentality in some quarters because neither DirecTV nor Dish signed on to carry FS1 ... until late last week, when the two satellite TV providers joined Comcast in agreeing to pick up the channel.

As we discussed a month ago, these sorts of deals often come at the 11th hour.

What happened? Well, you could say that Fox caved, although that isn't altogether accurate. You can definitely say that Fox changed tactics.

The Pac-12 Networks, on the other hand, have refused to change tactics. So while FS1 is on DirecTV, P12N is not. And, given that the Pac-12 had launched a dump-DirecTV campaign, it certainly doesn't appear the two sides are anywhere near an agreement.

If the league thought there was light at the end of this tunnel, would it be running anti-DirecTV ads and running the risk of further damaging its chances with the satellite TV giant? Seems unlikely.

The two situations aren't the same. P12N is an entirely new product from an entirely new company — unlike, say, the Big Ten Network, which is operated by the majority (51 percent) owner, Fox.

Fox turned the Speed Channel into Fox Sports 1 and wanted to pass along a huge rate increase to cable/satellite providers — from 23 cents per subscriber per month to 80 cents — a 348 percent increase. That didn't work out so well, so Fox decided to retrench. It will continue to charge providers 23 cents until those contracts expire, at which point it will attempt to renegotiate up toward that 80 cent figure.

(If you're wondering, ESPN charges $5.40 per month and ESPN2 68 cents.)

What FS1 is currently losing in subscriber fees it can partially make up in advertising. The channel added an estimated 45 million households last week with its about-face. Ratings and ad rates will be higher when you're in about 90 million homes than half that.

At the Pac-12 Networks, however, there has been no about face. P12N is holding firm that it won't cut DirecTV a better deal than it has anyone else; and DirecTV isn't budging, either.

The league is prioritizing subscriber fees over distribution in the belief that it will benefit the bottom lines of all its member schools. Which, in the long run, might work.

That's small comfort to the fans of those member school who still can't see the channel.

P12N doesn't release its distribution numbers. It doesn't subscribe to the Nielsen ratings, so there are no numbers available there, either.

Some estimates has P12N in 28-30 million homes right now. Which is roughly half the number of homes where BYUtv is available.

That's not the same situation either, however. The Pac-12 wants to make money from TV; BYU wants to expand its distribution as wide as possible and essentially gives the channel away.

But for now, there are roughly twice as many BYU fans who can watch the Cougars play on BYUtv as there are Utah fans who can watch the Utes on P12N.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.