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The ACC's Digital Opportunity

If TV as we know it is dying, and the ACC has a chance to take a lead in the post-cable world.

Commissioner John Swofford has done some good things for the ACC but there's a lot more that he can do.
Commissioner John Swofford has done some good things for the ACC but there's a lot more that he can do.
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

As you guys know, we're a bit skeptical of the whole idea of endless revenues for televised sports.

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Clearly there's a market - the World Cup is drawing viewers from every continent, religion and every possible demographic imaginable. You can be sure, for instance, that jihadists and intelligence analysts are watching the same matches and, in some cases no doubt, pulling for the same teams.

Even so, there's mounting pressure on broadcasters, who have to figure out not only how to finance massive events like the World Cup, the Super Bowl or the NCAA Tournament, but how to get it to people where they want it.

This article about the recent demise of Aero underscores that.

The writer, who goes by the handle of Cord Cutter, points out that among Millennials (we could do with a better term here), traditional TV is all but dead.

Young people prefer video on their phones and are finding things that you will not see on TV anytime soon, if ever.

As we mentioned the other day, there are now online video game tournaments drawing massive audiences. And as Cord Cutter points out, VidCon recently drew 20,000 fans, most of them quite young, looking for their favorite YouTube stars.

So as audiences migrate to Web forms and lose interest in passive TV, the model which has allowed bundling, multiple sports networks and unending rate increases, what are the long-term prospects for single conference networks?

We'd say murky at best, and not  just because young people are developing radically different video habits.

It's sort of under the radar, especially with people like all of us who love college sports enough to seek out sites like this, but colleges and universities are having trouble selling - or even giving away - student seats.

We don't think that most students, or at least not most American students, are suddenly more diligent about school. They're just finding other things that are also interesting.

So if you're a gamer and there's a huge tournament on the Web at the same time there's a football game, what's your choice?

The projections for the models behind network contracts, like all computer models, are based on expectations of what will develop. There's no way to know for sure. Who would have thought in 1947 that football would surpass baseball?

Our guess here - and that's what it is just like anyone else's, because you can't see the future, only imagine it - our guess is that there may come a time, perhaps sooner than anyone could possibly imagine, when conference networks are seen as either irrelevant or an anachronism.

Does this remind you of anything? Like maybe the music industry just before the digital tsunami swept over it?

That said, while traditional TV is losing ground, no one has yet figured out how to move sports online while maintaining the extraordinary revenue TV sports generate.

We may look back at VH1 pop-up videos as an early template because extra information forced you to reconsider the form. You could say that hip-hop sampling is the same thing

We could see a form, in other words, which relies less on experts like Dick Vitale than on the audience creating a second level of content.

Who knows? But whatever happens, a far-sighted conference would commit serious revenues to Web forms.

The ACC has some good early steps - a presence on Apple TV is smart and the ACC draft show, while disappointingly cheap, was still an outstanding idea. But really: interviewing waitresses? Draft picks printed and taped to a white board? Unevenly?

Now the league needs to think about how to build on those things. We'd suggest a few easy steps.

  • Bring back Sportswriters On TV and call it Sportswriters on the ACC. That was a very entertaining show and could be really fun with an ACC focus. Put it on Apple TV. Stop thinking of it as an app and start thinking of it as a network that can be filled and made really useful.
  • Allow fans to participate in Webcasts, initially by Tweets, but in other ways when it's feasible.
  • Try new ideas and don't be shy. Some will work and some won't.
  • At every possible stage, involve students. This is really critical. As habits change, it's vitally important to be aware of what's coming. With large bodies of students, colleges and universities can have a real insight into where things are going. You won't learn much by sticking with what has worked so far. Those things won't work much longer.