LHN (Longhorn Network) owned by University of Texas, Austin, TX, created LHN supposedly to offer the huge fan base the college has garnered in the US access to their sports program. A recent contract between LHN and ESPN for exclusive rights has backfired with University of Texas fans, saying “where’s the beef? It seems rather than open up access, UT college officials have actually done the opposite. Many fans in Austin, TX and around the US are currently denied access to certain football games, courtesy of ESPN and its contract negotiations with service providers.
The controversy hinges on an exclusive contract the school entered into with ESPN, $300 million for 20 year exclusive rights to all their sports programming. This puts fans at the mercy of ESPN contracts with cable service providers who must carry the network via ESPN. It has long been a contention with cable operators that the high cost of ESPN programming makes for higher programming costs and resulting cable rate increases. This leads to contentious negotiations with program service providers and ESPN, as a program owner/distributor, in coming to terms.
In the interim, UT college fans are left out in the cold, wanting to follow their school, but with little choice on limited distribution by ESPN. The problem begins with the decision to distribute LHN as a cable TV network which entails ESPN striking a deal with all cable providers where LHN fans reside. This cuts a tremendously wide swath of territory for ESPN to cover with individual agreements. LHN is not offered on ESPNGO Internet, it is being sold for a profit to those cable operators willing to pay the price.
“Although the Longhorn Network has an internet presence hosted by ESPN, it’s unavailable to users unless the user also has a subscription to the cable network in the region.  Patrick Ryan, Policy Counsel, Open Internet at Google pointed out that the reach as of September 2012 was about 10 million potential viewers, whereas if it were online, it could reach 230 million viewers in the U.S., or as many as 2 billion potential viewers” See (College sports should hook’em online)
Exclusivity is not a new concept, but one that can backfire, pushing those desperate for program access to the black market. I’m sure this is probably the case with many LHN fans wanting access to Longhorn TV.
- Consolidated Communications
- Bay City Cablevision
- Mid-Coast Cablevision
- Texas Mid-Gulf Cablevision
- En-Touch Systems
- E-Texas communications
- Grande Communications
LHN Non – Carriage
It is evident that most mainstream service providers do not carry the network since negotiations for ESPN carriage rights can be arduous and expensive, something cable operators will wait-out, seeking a better deal. Why schools officials thought this was a good idea was insidiously blinded by the dollar $ thrown at them by ESPN. School official response to fans is to be patient. This is a long-term deal and looking at the long-term, this is a good deal.
Obviously from a coverage standpoint it was not. Using the open Internet would have been a better choice for fans, but money was the agenda, not fan access. Maybe this can be a lesson learned by colleges looking to tap into the lucrative sports programming arena. How can you expect supporters and donors to feel comfortable giving to UT if decisions are made without proper foresight and consequences?
Image via The Digital Texan