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Longhorn Network Adds Six Texas Operators

The Longhorn Network has added six operators to its herd in time for its first game - a Sept,. 3 contest pitting the Longhorns of the University of Texas against the Owls of Rice University. Four of those affiliates will be on board in time for the ESPN service's Aug. 26 kickoff at 6 p.m. (CT)

Consolidated Communications, En-Touch Systems, E-Tex Communications, Bay City Cablevision, Mid-Coast Cablevision and Texas Mid-Gulf Cablevision will carry that first game from Darryl K Royal -- Texas Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. (CT) (with a midnight encore).

The distribution news comes a day after Longhorn Network announced its first affiliate deal, with Verizon's FiOS TV, on Aug. 25.

Absent from the affiliate announcement were notations from the state's largest distributor, Time Warner Cable; Comcast; DirecTV and overbuilder Grande Communications, which provides video and high-speed data services to UT campus at Austin, home of Longhorn Network.

At presstime, a spokesman for Grande indicated that negotiations continue with Longhorn Network.
Time Warner Cable declined to comment. But sources familiar with the negotiations said the parties remain far apart.

For its part, DirecTV issued the following statement: "We've had discussions with ESPN about Longhorn Network, but we have no plans right now to carry it. We understand Longhorn has other programming that may be of value to a small segment of our customers, but two UT football games do not constitute a network. We're happy to carry those two games under the considerable fees we already pay ESPN for programming that includes the Big 12. Given the dynamic situation in college football conferences today, we'll wait and see how it all shakes out before we decide what we will or won't carry."

Sources indicate that Longhorn Network has been seeking a monthly license fee of 40 cents per subscriber within Texas and three adjoining states.

Some distributors have expressed concerns over scheduling of a second football game, which remains in limbo at this juncture; uncertainty about the future of the Big 12 as Texas A&M continues to pursue a transfer to the Southeastern Conference; and the NCAA shutting out high school football product from the network because such inclusion would aid Texas' recruiting.

The 24-hour service, scheduled to present some 200 live events from 20 sports, plus original series is the result of a 20-year, $300 million agreement with the university,  the programmer and multimedia rights-holder IMG College, which negotiated the deal for the school.

Additionally, the broadband companion to the TV network will offer extensive content, particularly live games not carried on the linear TV network due to scheduling conflicts.

"This network is dedicated to serving the passionate fans of the University of Texas, and we appreciate the support of these operators in that effort," said executive vice president, Disney and ESPN Media Networks David Preschlack in a statement.

According to a press release, Consolidated Communications, Bay City Cablevision, Mid-Coast Cablevision, Texas Mid-Gulf Cablevision will launch the network on Friday, Aug. 26 with Verizon, En-Touch Systems, E-Tex Communications launching on Thursday, Sept, 1.

ESPN said the Longhorn Network will be available online, on tablets and on smartphones to fans with an affiliated video subscription in the near future.

Beginning Sept. 1, at 7 p.m., Game Plan with Mack Brown will look at what Texas must do to earn the win against Rice.

Prior to Saturday's kick-off, the two-hour Texas GameDay - the only pre-game show exclusively from inside the stadium - at 5 p.m. will give fans all the insights, analysis and excitement they've come to know from ESPN's College GameDay pre-game show. Then, Longhorn fans will see the debut of Texas GameDay Final - a two-hour dedicated post-game show televised immediately after the game exclusively from the field.

On Monday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m., Rewind with Mack Brown will break down all the plays and action from the team's first contest.

Finally, Tuesday Sept. 6 at 8 p.m., Texas Football Overdrive will present the Rice vs. Texas game in an enhanced format featuring interviews, sound and analysis that bring viewers an inside look at the game.

Mike Reynolds contributed to this report.