America Channel plans to enter the regional sports network game with the kickoff of the 2008 college sports fall season.
Doron Gorshein, CEO of America Channel, which yesterday scored an arbitration-driven affiliate deal with Comcast for seven regional sports networks offering college action from 19 NCAA Division 1 conference representing 172 universities, said the programming would launch “in advance of NCAA football season.” The college football season typically begins in late August.
Gorshein said he was not authorized to discuss license fee or positioning particulars relative to the Comcast affiliate pact, which will give America Channel a presence in 26 DMAs, including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, New York, Chicago, Denver and Detroit.
Comcast officials declined to discuss deal points as well, and whether the service would appear on digital basic, sports tiers or if the carriage varied by markets. In an FCC filing last February, America Channel indicated that it “in exchange for carriage, [America Channel] is offering its programming to Comcast without a per-subscriber fee for an initial period of three years, after which the parties would negotiate the terms of carriage. [America Channel] anticipates that, if Comcast reciprocally commits to provide carriage on its cable systems, the quality of [America Channel’s] programming will enable it to attract viewers and significant advertising revenues.”
The programmer gained entry to the nation’s largest cable operator by utilizing a merger condition of Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s joint $17.6 billion purchase of Adelphia Communications in July 2006, regarding compulsory arbitration for unaffiliated regional sports networks.
Comcast asked the FCC to reject the programmer’s gambit, saying that the channel, which previously aimed to provide a network focused on Americans’ lifestyles, habits and hobbies, was gaming the Adelphia merger condition by presenting itself as a regional sports service even though it had never launched.
The FCC in September, though, determined that America Channel qualified as a sports network because it then had programming deals with NCAA Division I college-sports conferences to air 500 games of football, basketball, soccer and volleyball. It also met the definition of regional, the FCC said, because the network had committed, at the time, to offer separate broadcasts in six geographic regions that include 20 individual TV markets.
In addition to the new pact with Comcast, Gorshein said America Channel has deals with overbuilder RCN in three markets for analog positioning, as well as Verizon’s FiOS TV service. He noted that America Channel has signed deals with smaller providers that have yet to be announced.
Gorshein said America Channel’s programming plan calls for the regionals -- AC New England, AC Northeast, AC Mid-Atlantic, AC Midwest, AC Mountain, AC South and AC West -- to present game action tied to attendant conferences. Additionally, America Channel has the rights to take game action out of the market and air it across the other regionals. The regionals’will also present segments under the SportsLife initiative -- campus-generated sports and lifestyle content jointly developed with America Channel’s school partners.
As examples of programming under that banner, Gorshein cited such examples as Sun Belt Conference athletes going to post-Katrina New Orleans to help rebuild homes; Big Sky ski team members training at altitude; and Ivy League student-athletes performing community service in Boston and Providence, R.I..
Asked how much of that footage was in the can, Gorshein said: “It’s planned; we have not created a massive library.”
Gorshein said that America Channel in advance of its launch would employ several dozen people for internal procedures, while it will outsource all sports production, network management and satellite capacity operations.
On-air talent will be drawn from the same pool as other regional sports networks, he said. In addition, Gorshein said that there would be “unique opportunities for students during pre-game, halftime and post-game segments. They will supply a unique perspective from campus. That’s helpful to our local/regional efforts.”
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