Monday, July 30, 2007

AF Mailbag: Climbing The Mtn.

Hello again,

Just more than 48 hours before the start of fall practice. To pass the time, I’m going to post the first installment of my “AF Mailbag.” Below is an e-mail I received from a fan. My response is below it.

Q: Is there any discussion of getting rid of this horrible TV deal the Mountain West has gotten into? I’m a Comcast subscriber in Washington, D.C., and I recently asked them if there was any way I could get The Mtn. (considering Comcast owns The Mtn.), and they told me no. My point is, while it may be inconvenient to play at 10 a.m. on ESPN, isn’t that better than playing to no audience? Is the Mountain West really big enough to justify a network?

A: As far as I can tell, the conference is full speed ahead behind The Mtn. and has no thoughts, as of right now, of bailing on the network.

Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson and a bunch of TV executives spoke at the conference media days last week to address the issue. They preached patience, noting that starting a new network — especially the first to cover one conference — takes time. “There’s no blueprint,” Thompson said.

They said they were encouraged by negotiations not just with satellite providers but with some cable providers — Thompson said they were in “near daily” negotiations with such providers.

And they asked, again, for the help of fans — stressing how important it is that they call their service providers and ask for The Mtn.

Here’s what I see as the main issues:

— Comcast is a cable provider, so as a part-owner of The Mtn. it’s essentially on both sides of the negotiating table. How can Comcast — a cable provider, the sworn enemy of satellite — sell the network to satellite providers? And if it’s owned by Comcast, why won’t Comcast put it on basic cable?
— As you pointed out — this is the Mountain West Conference. Does it really have the fan base to support an entire network? Will it ever reach places such as Washington, D.C. if it can’t even get to Fort Worth, Texas, home of the Mountain West Conference’s TCU?

— Will CSTV and Versus — which will carry 23 Mountain West games nationally this season — become “household names?” Lots of people have Versus and don’t even know it.
It boils down to this: Will short-term pain for fans provide long-term gain? Will the current struggles be worth it two, five, 10 years from now?
CSTV has grown enormously in the past few years — Tim Pernetti, the executive vice president for content for CSTV said the network was “a 2 million home launch on satellite. And we were in 2 million homes for a good bulk of the first year that we were on the air before we started to pick up steam. … It’s progressed dramatically to the point that we’re available now in north of 60 million homes and we’re actually in 22 million homes. So that’s four years ago, four years and a little bit of change ago.”
If The Mtn. can experience similar growth, then in the not-too-distant future, it could be the best thing ever to happen to the conference. But if it doesn’t, if 10 years from now the station still isn’t on satellite plans, still isn’t widely offered nationally on cable plans and still isn’t available in the areas where schools are located (such as Colorado Springs) except to those who want to pay for a more expensive cable plan — well, it clearly won’t have been worth it. Having 90 percent of your games televised — or 100 percent, for that matter — means nothing if nobody can watch them.
In the meantime, enjoy the TCU, Navy and Army games on CSTV, the New Mexico game on Versus and the Notre Dame game on NBC. And for the others ... read the Gazette’s coverage!

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