Pac-12 Networks set stage for future of sports viewing

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The East Coast will finally have an easier time watching West Coast hoops. Well, at least Pac-12 hoops.

Wednesday’s announcement of the Pac-12 networks gives the conference a national channel that’ll be available in 40 million homes and show 350 events. It’s also launching six regional networks covering the areas of its member schools that’ll show 500 events a year. More importantly, subscribers can watch everything on smart phones and tablets, a promising sign of forward thinking.

It’ll partner with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks, but nothing’s in place yet with DirecTV or Dish Network yet. Everything launches in August 2012.

Combine this with the already existing $3 billion contract with Fox and ESPN (they still get the high-profile games; more on that in a bit) and it all adds up to more exposure – take that Big East! It also will undoubtedly help recruiting, not to mention bring in more money for all the schools. Revenue for everyone!

So what’s the hitch?

For college hoops fans, it’ll probably end up being pretty sweet. The networks want to show football, so don’t expect to see any sweet gridiron matchups on the Pac-12 network. The regional network? Not a chance.

But for hoops, Awful Announcing figures it’ll mean six games a week before conference play begins and 2-3 a week in January and February for maybe 80 a year.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not so hot. This column by Ben Koo of Awful Announcing is correct in its assessment that as more TV networks pop up to strictly service specific markets – BTN Network, Longhorn Network – the odds of someone eventually challenging ESPN’s dominance seems slim.

An excerpt:

With media folks realizing the more your scatter sports the more money you can make (FX, Tru Tv, Golf Channel, regionals, TBS, TNT, leagues, conferences, Versus), a true ESPN competitor will likely never emerge. Versus/NBC Sports (rebranding pending) or TNT/TBS has a shot, but every time the decision to start sports network #150 arises, that’s more programming that can’t help stabilize and build out an ESPN competitor. To be truly competitive, an entity like Versus is going to need to be overloaded with live events to the point that people will stay for original programming which would help increase ratings, distribution, and carriage fees.

I think consumers would much rather have a dozen sports channels with 4-5 of them being significant and the rest being niche rather than 40 teeny tiny niche channels that really offer no value other than a handful of good games a year.

This is the future of sports and it starts soon. Hope everyone’s ready.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.