The Longhorn Network is out there, but the Longhorn network isn’t here where the Longhorns live. It’s debut was yesterday, Friday, August 26, 2001. Its studios are right here in Austin, yet we can’t view it. I can’t even review it.
We’re talking about big money and uncertainty. ESPN promised to plunk down nearly $11-million a year for all Longhorns all the time over the next 20-years. Now, ESPN is looking for program carriers like Time Warner Cable, Grande Cable, AT&T Uverse, Dish, and Direct to pay them for that programming. In turn subscribers to those services will cover those costs.
That’s why I say that the Longhorn Network will end up on an upper tier at Time Warner and perhaps a premium channel costing extra. Are subscribers willing to pay more for the Rice vs. UT football game and eight men's basketball games? Oh, there will be other sports too—softball, volleyball, and the Mack Brown Show, all repeated several times. Are these worth the extra cost?
The question of the costs and return on the investment are why no carrier has signed a deal to bring the Longhorn Network to the Austin market.
Yes, “Several operators in the state of Texas – Consolidated Communications, En-Touch Systems, E-Tex Communications, Bay City Cablevision, Mid-Coast Cablevision and Texas Mid-Gulf Cablevision -- will make the Longhorn Network (LHN) available to University of Texas fans,” according to a release issued Friday (August 26, 2011). “This network is dedicated to serving the passionate fans of the University of Texas, and we appreciate the support of these operators in that effort,” said David Preschlack, executive vice president, Disney and ESPN Media Networks.
Whoopie for them.
I’ve berated Time Warner in the past for failure to come to table and negotiate “must carry” contracts with local stations or other proven programming services. TW still won’t carry the NFL Network, and there is an obvious audience for those games. What to do with the Longhorn Network is different however. The Longhorn network is a gamble.
What if the vaunted University of Texas Longhorns football team sucks? Will anybody watch? Will anybody care, even in Austin? The Horns were a woeful 5-7 last year, hardly a record that would attract viewers other than the faithful if they can’t do any better.
In a valid comparison Darrell Rovell reporting for CNBC compares the network possibilities with the University’s inability to sell seats to the Rice game. “With hundreds of tickets under $50 for the Rice game, Texas sent out an e-mail to its season ticket holders this week offering half-price seats on its non-marquee games. Some of those seats are in areas where people have paid a donation on top of the face value, showing just how overpriced some of its tickets are,” Rovell writes.
I’ve seen notices where season-ticket holders are trying to ditch their seats to the Rice game. Who wants to sit in the stands and roast while watching an unranked Longhorn team? It’s bound to be at least in the 90s when the game starts at 7 p.m., and sunset isn’t for about another hour.
There will be a way to watch the Longhorn Network in Austin. If had been launched in a national championship year, people would care. People would pay. This year, it’s hard to say—hard for everyone involved.
© Jim McNabb, 2011