INTERVIEW: A Pac-12 Networks update

A WHOLE LOT of Cougar fans want to know seven days before the official launch – will the Pac-12 Network be on DirecTV? Dish? Verizon? AT&T? Cablevision? Others? CF.C asked those questions and more of Gary Stevenson, the President of Pac-12 Enterprises. Here's the latest…

DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon, AT&T, Cablevision – none have yet forged a deal with the Pac-12 Networks and time is beginning to run short. Stevenson, however, remains squarely on the optimistic side of things.

"At the core of all these discussions is this -- great content. We've not talked to one distributor yet that has said, ‘We don't think your content is worth putting on the air.' And if there's great content, the fans will typically get what they want. It's a business, and they want to give their customers what they want," said Stevenson.

Asked about DirecTV and Dish specifically, Stevenson characterized the discussions as "very positive."

Who's on board the Pac-12 Network?
The Pac-12's first agreements were with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Bright House Networks. Since then, a deal was struck with the NCTC, (the National Cable Television Cooperative which includes around 900 "smaller" cable companies throughout the country). Among those who have ‘opted-in' include Wave Broadband, Bend Broadband, Astound, Frontier FIOS, Western Broadband and Orbitel Communications.

Wave Broadband, in a deal announced yesterday, will provide carriage of Pac-12 Washington, Pac-12 Bay Area and Pac-12 Oregon to subscribers in the Seattle, Sacramento and Portland areas, respectively.

Frontier FIOS provides coverage in Redmond, Kirkland, Bothell, Richmond Beach, Halls Lake, Lynnwood, Everett, Maryville and Arlington. Frontier's distribution also covers a portion of Beaverton and Gresham. Frontier will provide Pac-12 Washington, Pac-12 Oregon and Pac-12 National. Bend Broadband services central Oregon. Astound provides carriage in the Pac-12 Bay Area to subscribers in the San Francisco area and collectively serves over 325,000 subscribers in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. The Orbitel deal was to carry the Pac-12 Arizona regional network in parts of Arizona.

"They have a different business model (than cable) so there are a lot of things .. that are very specific in working out an agreement," said Stevenson. "It's been very positive. But it's not done ‘till it's done."

Negotiations in the past between other networks and the two major satellite operators have at times turned very public, very contentions. (That hasn't been the case to date with the Pac-12.)

And some channels have gone black when deadlines expire with no new agreements. In this case, with a brand new network, nothing would go dark. But is it possible the Aug. 15 launch comes and goes without the Pac-12 Network on DirecTV or Dish? How about up to and even through Sep. 1, the first weekend of the season? (Note: WSU plays EWU in Week 2 on the Pac-12 Network.)

‘It could -- I can't tell you exactly or predict (the future)," said Stevenson. "But I think there is so much interest in this football season from our fans -- and we have six games the first week, (Aug. 30-Sep. 1). Over the first 4 weeks, we have all 12 schools on.

"And that's just the first 4 weeks. The Pac-12 football fans are going to want to see the game, so I think here is some urgency we're seeing from them. We're going to broadcast 850 events. The Pac-12 fans want to see those."

LET'S SAY YOUR carrier is, or will be soon, on board with the Pac-12 Network. But you're away from home, and you want to stream the Cougs' game. You enter your authentication code your carrier's TV Everywhere platform on your laptop, and there's the Coug game. Great! But how high of quality is that stream going to be?

A lot depends on your configuration – a great iPad or laptop, but on a slow connection, isn't going to stream crisp and clean. But as far as what will be provided by the Pac-12 Networks?

The bit rate stream is adaptive, meaning the quality adjusts automatically based on sensing the speed of the user's internet connection. The Pac-12 Networks Flash adaptive bit rate streams that will be provided: 400k, 800k, 1400k, 2000k, 3000k. For the iPad, the Pac-12 will provide iOS adaptive bit rate streams at: 300kbps, 700kbps and 1300kbps.

The frame rate will typically be 30fps. Users shouldn't expect an HD quality stream but the Pac-12 Networks tell CF.C the maximum resolution will typically be 1280 x 720, but can in some cases vary depending on the original source of the video before they encode it for Web & Mobile.

"The good news is technology has advanced to such that video transmitted over the internet, (and this [scope] has never been done before,) but with TV Everywhere, you get all the programming. There may be some issues in the beginning but on balance we are, at launch, in both the iPad and PC, and then 15-30 days out we'll add more (devices). And probably 90 days after that the iPhone and Android," said Stevenson.

Another question Pac-12 fans are asking these days -- Do I get all seven Pac-12 Network channels, or just my regional, or just the national, or what?

"It all depends on what their carriers offers them," said Stevenson. "They might offer all 6 networks and the national in one tier, other operators can package it differently." (Bottom line: Call your carrier and ask.)

STEVENSON ALSO WANTS those with carriers who haven't reached a deal with the Pac-12 Networks to pick up the phone.

"If fans ask you what they can do to help, I think they should, if they are with a provider now not scheduled to carry the Pac-12 Networks, I think they should let their carrier know. It is very important for them to hear what their customers want -- it's a business, and it's helpful to the carrier when they're making a business decision," said Stevenson.

Stevenson said there will be a master schedule available on the Pac-12 site, one that will allow fans to easily check which games will be available on which networks. That is scheduled to go live the same day as the launch, on Aug. 15. Stevenson expects some bugs and things that will need to be ironed out in the early going. But all in all, he's pleased with where they stand a week before launch.

"We're ready to go. It's go time," said Stevenson.

In terms of the Pac-12 Network announcing and commentary, don't expect the announcers to wear their bias on their sleeves. "We think it has to do with great content. Fans want honest reporting, and our job is to get them honest reporting. To call a game honestly is the (mantra) we've given them. On the flip side, they are human beings, the refs are human beings too. But we believe in honest, straight-forward and candid reporting," said Stevenson.

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