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SEC Network to launch Thursday with or without Mediacom

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:51 a.m. CDT, Thursday, August 14, 2014
Tim Tebow answers a question during an interview on the set of ESPN's new SEC Network in Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 6. Tebow has a new job as a commentator for the SEC Network but is still looking for work in the NFL as a quarterback. It's still unclear whether many Columbia residents and MU students living on campus will have the opportunity to view the network because of contract negotiations between it and Mediacom.

COLUMBIA — The SEC Network launches Thursday. Whether many mid-Missouri residents will get a chance to watch it is yet to be determined.

The cable provider Mediacom is still in negotiations with ESPN for a contract to carry the 24-hour network, which will showcase the conference's athletics with live events, analysis and game replays. Each of the SEC's football teams will have at least one game on the station, including Missouri's Sept. 13 home contest against Central Florida.

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As of Monday, the network is available through most of the main cable providers — Comcast's XFINITY Center, CenturyLink, DISH, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable — as well as some lesser-known entities: AT&T U-verse, Bright House Networks, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Google Fiber, LUS Fiber, PTC Communications and Wilkes Telephone. Some providers also will offer events on SECNetwork.com.

The network's launch includes more than 92 million subscribers.

What will those subscribers be getting?

Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy will make their returns to the SEC as analysts. Paul Finebaum will move his popular radio talk show to the network. Brent Musberger will call games. And viewers will get plenty of replays before the live events begin.

With headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., the SEC Network plans to broadcast more than 1,000 live events in its first year, according to Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president of college networks.

That's almost twice as many as the launch year for the Pac-12 Network, which is now up to 850 live events in its third season. The SEC is a different — and more powerful — animal.

"There's enough content in this conference, given the 14 teams and high level of competition, that we feel we'll have more than enough," Connolly said.

The SEC Network, launching Thursday at 5 p.m., will kick off its broadcast with SEC Now – a news show covering all things SEC. The first week's lineup will consist of football team previews and classic SEC games, including the BCS championship games between 2007 and 2013.

Game replays, a staple for any conference-centric network, will fill in the other hours of programming.

The first Missouri-focused program will be a Tigers football preview Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m. A "Best of Missouri" series will air Aug. 25, beginning at 11 p.m. It'll show four consecutive classic games: the 2005 Independence Bowl against South Carolina, the 2007 Missouri-Kansas matchup, the 2010 Missouri-Oklahoma homecoming game and the 2012 Missouri-Tennessee four-overtime thriller.

Viewers also will get an early peek at the college basketball and soccer seasons. Kentucky's Big Blue Bahamas Tour will air between Aug. 15-17 and Georgia will play Ole Miss in soccer on Aug. 22.

What's the deal with Mediacom?

But, many in the Columbia and Jefferson City area will be left in the dark. Mediacom is also the provider for Mizzou Cable, the campus' television network. Until Mediacom makes a deal with the network, those on campus won't see the network either, according to Jana Bott, manager of strategic communication for the UM System's Division of IT.

"Mediacom is still in negotiations, but hopes to offer it," Bott said in an email Monday.

Phyllis Peters, a communications director for Mediacom, also said the parties are working on a deal to be done before the season begins. The first SEC Network football game will be Texas A&M at South Carolina on Aug. 28.

"The relationship of SEC as part of a bigger media owner (ESPN) doesn’t necessarily make it a tougher proposition but one with many more elements involved. So, that’s why this process takes some time," Peters said in an email. "Detailed arrangements for all the pieces need to be put in place."

The network's promos this summer instructed viewers to tell their cable provider to carry the network. An online petition is also available to sign at getsecnetwork.com. It appears that's all Mediacom customers can do at the moment.

Missouri athletics took to Twitter on Monday to urge the provider to carry the network. Mediacom reponded saying there is no estimated time for the SEC Network:

Launching a new network

A conference-only network is nothing new. Both the Big Ten Conference (launched in 2007) and the Pac-12 Network (launched in 2012) have benefited financially. The Pac-12 saw a $158.1 million increase in total revenue its first year with its network, for a total of $334 million in fiscal year 2013, according to a USA Today report. The Big Ten reported earnings of $318.4 million that same year. The SEC came in third at $314.5 million. The SEC will most likely surpass that number after the network's first year.

The Pac-12, unlike the SEC, has complete ownership of its network.

The Pac-12 Network also created regional networks for each area of the conference, to tailor content to its six regions. Regional networks will not be part of the SEC Network, Connolly said.

"From the start, we looked at doing a single network," Connolly said. "We view the SEC as a national conference, one of national relevance. Our feeling from the beginning was to do a single network feed and have that distributed nationally."

The Pac-12 Conference still has a contract with ESPN and Fox, a rich 12-year, $3 billion deal. But the conference's network is owned by the conference itself, an important distinction.

The SEC Network, given its ties to ESPN, will also have to answer to the sports broadcast leader. CBS will have priority in choosing its mid-Saturday afternoon SEC football broadcast, usually the day's marquee game. The other games will then be doled out between ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network. 

One of the SEC Network's recent victories is its deal with DirecTV, which still doesn't carry the Pac-12 Network.

The SEC Network will charge cable providers in SEC states more than it will charge those outside of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, according to Scott Pierce, vice president of the Television Critics Association and writer for the Salt Lake Tribune. The Pac-12 Network, meanwhile, has one fee for all providers, no matter the region, according to Pierce.

For the die-hard SEC fans who subscribe to Mediacom, they will have to wait, find a friend with another provider, or switch providers altogether. Certainly the SEC's widespread launch this week and recent deal with DirecTV strengthens its position in negotiations with Mediacom. But when and if that deal will be struck, is still up in the air.

"At this point, I think we've laid a successful foundation to launch this kind of network," Connolly said. "I think most areas have two, at least three options for consumers. Columbia, Mo., is an exception to that, however, as there's no deal with Mediacom yet."

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.


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