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The ACC's Big App-ortunity

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With so many cable networks now, and with the acceleration of unbundling, we've been advocating that the ACC look beyond networks into Internet TV:  television delivered via broadband.

Our limited thinking to date would be that the ACC push hard to be the college conference of choice when, and if, Apple pushes out their much anticipated television. Being the featured athletic app on that platform would be tremendous.

As we said recently, one cable network has a tentative leg up (we can't remember who is doing this, but we think Comcast) and has simply replaced their DVR directory with apps.

In other words, instead of seeing ESPN, you see an icon that reads New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics.

So naturally we were pleased to see that Reed Hastings, the CEO and visionary behind Netflix, is firmly convinced that TV is heading this way.

Who's not sick of getting the 200+channels you don't want? Our package currently offers us Equador TV, BYU TV, God TV, PBS Sprout,  Logo and SOAPnet, among others. These are all aimed at fairly specific demographics and we're forced to buy them, willy nilly.

If we could design our own package, we'd just get sports, news, HBO, a few odds and ends and local channels. Even better, if we could just buy the shows we wanted, we could really focus on the entertainment we want.

So imagine instead that you go to your wired TV, Apple or otherwise, call up your menu, and see an app for, say, Duke-UNC.

Obviously you can watch it live. Or you can record it and watch (or rewatch) it later.

Or perhaps you can turn on a Twitter feed on the side or bottom of your big honking screen. Perhaps there's also an app, an overlay, of say, and you can look at the relevant numbers.

The ACC could also hire a company like SportVU or STATS LLC to do really intense analytics (for that matter, you could get into a whole other level of gambling with analtyics and instant breakdowns, but that's somebody else's ball to run with) and to present them on screen. In fact, you could even offer a split screen on demand with the game on one side and a dynamic stat dance on the other.  Maybe even an overlay.

The point we've been after is that just because the Big Ten has a network and the increasingly smug SEC is about to have one, that's no reason to get one yourself, particularly if the market is about to go through a major disruption. And if you haven't noticed, having a dedicated network hasn't worked out so well for high and mighty Texas, not least of all because in great need of content, they have aired practices, which allows opponents to get a rather definitive leg up on the Longhorns.

We know the ACC has a primitive version, the ACC Digital Network, and the Video Vault, but these are very early attempts. If they can partner with ESPN, Apple, Amazon or Netflix, a company which would like to move more towards a concept of television and which be very receptive to a conference like the ACC, they'll be way ahead of the curve.

In many ways, ESPN is the logical partner: the ACC has an existing relationship and no doubt contract lawyers have protected digital rights. ESPN, as much as anyone, is moving into Internet TV.

And ESPN is owned by Disney, and Disney, which now controls Pixar, has a long relationship with Apple. In fact, Steve Jobs was on the Disney board of directors.

We don't know what that relationship is like now, but given the ACC's demographics, which they should swing like a massive club, they have a shot at ending up not just as an ESPN digital pioneer, but also as Apple's first foray into sports transmission.

Just consider for a moment what you'd be willing to pay to see Duke-Louisville. Is $5.00 fair? $7.00?

At $5.00 a game, Duke's season would have worked out to $180.00. If you don't have a $150.00 monthly cable bill, it's actually not that bad.

Then consider that the ACC has around 400 games per season, multiply that by millions of viewers, toss in the rather tantalizing possibility of international markets having easy access (Netflix, for instance, is in 40 countries now), and you stand in a brave new world which could dwarf a traditional network.

Of course, the pricing structure could be something completely different and unexpected.

Anyway, if that's where things are going, and we agree with Hastings that it is, anyone would want to be there. The ACC, which has historically pioneered many things, has been kind of lazy lately when it comes to innovation. Now would be a great time to get on the ball. So to speak.