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Scott D. Pierce: BYUtv, Longhorn Network are not the same

Published August 25, 2011 11:55 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A lot has been said and written lately about how, perhaps, BYU would be a good fit for the Big 12 because it has its own TV network. Just like Texas.

The implication has been that the Longhorn Network and BYUtv are pretty much the same thing. Which isn't exactly true.

Their ways of operating, their goals, their reasons to exist are not the same.

To put it simply, Texas is in it to make a buck. Millions of bucks — $10 million in the first year and $300 million over 20 years from ESPN, which is operating the channel.

Reportedly, LHN is asking cable and satellite operators for 40 cents per subscriber per month. That's not completely outrageous. The Big Ten Network charged 70 cents per subscriber when it launched.

But it does partly explain why Texas' Big 12 rivals are not happy about any of this. If you're an Oklahoma fan who has to watch a Sooners-Longhorns game on LHN, part of your cable bill is going straight to that channel — and you're subsidizing your hated rival.

BYUtv, on the other hand, just wants access to any and all cable and satellite systems, which it does not charge. (The channel will, however, have underwriters in the style of PBS. There will be a revenue stream from businesses anxious to have their names associated with the Cougars.)

But BYUtv is all about exposure for the Cougars. And spreading the message of the LDS Church.

"It has always been about fan access," said Derek Marquis, managing director of BYU Broadcasting, who added that BYUtv's goal is "to get it into as many households as possible."

UT isn't worried about exposure. It has no message to spread, other than "Hook 'em, 'Horns."

BYUtv is a national and international network. It is steadily expanding its reach both in the United States, where it's available in about 60 million homes, and abroad, where it's available in 188 countries.

The Longhorn Network is clearly designed as a regional network focused mostly on the state of Texas. And, to a lesser extent, on Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico. Although Dave Brown, LHN's vice president of programming, predicts it will get "some sports-tier distribution outside of the surrounding states."

(That may take some time. The channel is slated to launch on Thursday and — as of this writing — major distribution deals have yet to be announced.)

"They're really not the same thing," said Brown, "We'll be on a much smaller scale when we get up and running. Obviously, BYUtv is a much more widely distributed network than we'll ever be."

Of course, Texas' rivals aren't just unhappy about the money the Longhorn Network will pull in. They also see it as an unfair recruiting advantage, which is why LHN has been blocked from airing high school football games for now.

BYUtv could be seen as a similar advantage to any potential conference mates. If BYU is invited and joins a conference — an extremely big if.

Marquis said he's had some contact with some of the folks at UT about how BYU launched its network.

"But they know how to do it," he said. "It's not rocket science. It takes a lot of money. You've got to have a facility. You've got to have a crew.

"But when you've got a partner like ESPN, you can pull this off."

Sort of like going independent in football, BYU is hoping.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. His sports on TV column runs every Wednesday. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com.






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