When more is less: the Pac-12 Network(s)

More local reruns, fewer live games: How's that for a Pac-12 Networks strategy that works fine if you're in LA and you want to watch everything from USC and UCLA -- over and over and over -- and not much live from the rest of the league.

So many games, so many Pac-12 Networks, yet so few games.

Does that make sense? How can there be so much and yet so little?

Here in the heat of basketball season, when commentators on many networks are saying as many as nine or 10 Pac-12 teams could be in contention for an NCAA tournament spot, what we get to see of those teams on the league's network -- games we can actually watch -- are very limited. On purpose.

Have you been alerted by social media about a particularly interesting Pac-12 men’s basketball game that doesn’t involve USC or UCLA, then quickly switched to the Pac-12 Network on your nice, big, flat screen television only to find a days-old UCLA women’s gymnastics meet or USC water polo match or, for the fifth or sixth or seventh time, a rerun of a Trojans basketball game from a week ago or even a football game from two or three or four years ago?

And when that happened, what did you do?

Like many of us, you probably switched to an ESPN network or the Big 10 Network or the SEC Network, or to CBS Sports or Fox, maybe Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports West, where there were actual, live basketball games all the while wondering why in the heck you couldn’t watch Oregon playing Washington live at that very same time.

As it turns out, apparently that’s what the Pac-12 wants you to do. There have been a couple of revealing stories written in the Tacoma News Tribune and Eugene Register-Guard recently explaining the thought process behind this puzzling scheduling philosophy.

Kirk Reynolds, the respected spokesman for the conference and not the maker of the TV deal but the man who must explain it, did so as best he could.

This year, for the first time, the fledgling network has enough programming stored in the vaults to fill each of the six regional channels that make up the Pac-12 Networks with hyper-local programming.

So if you get the network in the Los Angeles market, you will receive exclusively and only games that involve USC or UCLA. As the writer in Tacoma noticed when he wanted to watch the USC-UCLA basketball game last week, he couldn’t. He gets the Washington version of the network and so was treated to a recycled program about football signing day.

Why? And why now? Until this year, all of us subscribers to the Pac-12 Networks got much more, and widely varied, live programming.

But, as Reynolds explained, that isn’t the vision for the network. We are supposed to be driven to our tablets or computers if we want to see something other than UCLA gymnastics or USC water polo reruns when there are live basketball games happening outside our area.

We are supposed to welcome watching our live sports while squinting at an I-Pad instead of enjoying a basketball game on our HD big screens.

Or, if we’re lucky, our cable system also picks up the Pac-12 Network national channel. There is such a thing but you probably don’t get it, and if you do, it’s most likely not in HD and possibly more expensive.

How does this make sense?

Reynolds was quoted that this isn’t a money issue. He said the conference did not make more money with this fragmented programming. It is, he said, the vision that conference commissioner Larry Scott had from the start, that this is the future of broadcasting, this way of consuming sports on mobile devices instead of being tethered to our televisions.

Except it doesn’t feel so futuristic when you see on Twitter that Washington and Washington State are playing an overtime game that will affect USC and you’d love to watch it to an exciting finish except that you live in Los Angeles.

As someone who loves watching college gymnastics and water polo, swimming and track and field, and who appreciates the chance to watch USC and UCLA men and women compete in those sports, especially when they’re live, this setup makes no sense.

Watching live sports trumps everything. Just ask an advertiser why they spend the big bucks to get the live games.

So why would the Pac-12 want to drive viewers to seek live programming on other networks?

What if that writer of the Tacoma story is a voter in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and he wants to check out USC to get a more recent feel for the Trojans?

Maybe USC’s basketball team doesn’t get poll votes just because. The more eyes, the better, right?

USC was, as this was being written, getting drubbed by Arizona State on the Pac-12 Networks. Maybe you didn't want to watch. For sure you didn't get the chance if you were in Washington or Oregon or Northern California or Colorado or Utah.

But if you happen to live in Chicago and by some crazy chance, get the not-so-widely-distributed Pac-12 national feed, hey, you’re in luck.

Might not seem to make much sense, but it is the Pac-12 way.

Diane Pucin is a freelance sportswriter who has spent much of her career covering sports media. Contact her at mepucin@hotmail.com.

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