If the SEC is the king of the south, then the ACC is its little brother. Little brothers often follow in the footsteps of their older sibling, and in the case of the SEC's pending network, that appears to be the case. Still, as the SEC Network draws closer to a reality, the ACC should really push away from the "own network" table.
The Sports Business Journal reported on Monday that the ACC was conducting a feasibility study to determine the viability of an all-ACC, all-the-time cable channel. Obviously, the conference network has become a big moneymaker in recent years. The Big Ten is raking in money hand over fist thanks to their ever-growing network. The Pac-12 pulled up into the ranks of the cash elite with the advent of their own network.
Now, the SEC is closing in on a deal for their own cable space, and it looks like the ACC is interested in doing the same. The funny thing about feasibility studies is that they tend to come back recommending exactly what the folks in charge want to hear. In this case, if the ACC is hellbent on creating their own network, they will move in that direction.
On one hand, there is plenty to sell. ACC basketball, Notre Dame's non-football sports. The best lacrosse conference in the nation. ACC baseball. There is content to be had. There are also markets to acquire, as Charlotte, Raleigh, DC, Pittsburgh, Miami and Tampa are very much on the table.
It all sounds well and good—there certainly appears to be moneymaking potential. However, the ACC would also be jumping aboard a ship that is slowly sinking. In other words, the league would be hopping onto a revenue model that is approaching its maximum capacity and hoping to squeeze the last cent out of it before it bursts.
Right now, networks are making money because of the way they force cable service providers to carry their product due to customer demand. We're currently seeing the push back from DirecTV with the Pac-12 Network. We are about to watch the Big Ten Network try to bully their way into DC, Baltimore and New York City.
The days of cable service providers taking it on the chin, and cable customers paying escalating fees for channels they don't want, are numbered. We are on the cusp of a slow, painful restructuring of the television model.
Currently, cramming, packaging and forcing customers to purchase your network unwillingly is the model for success. However, as television consumption changes from a platform and provider standpoint, these networks face tumultuous waters.
People consume sports through their tablets, their Internet televisions, their video-gaming systems and via their smartphones. Folks are pushing away from the cable buffet to consume online-only content like Hulu and Netflix. Sports are the lifeblood of live television, and as the future becomes the present, the ability to watch sports outside of the traditional cable model is going to be key to capitalizing on consumers.
The future is where the ACC, and John Swofford, have to focus their efforts—not in trying to hitch their wagon to a slowly expiring horse. Folks like Intel, as Forbes reported earlier this month, are pushing to wade deeper into the a la carte world of service providing.
With AppleTV and GoogleTV both already testing the waters, the future of the television frontier is quickly approaching. Working to get in on that ground floor, and working with ESPN to make sure it is possible, should be job one.