Today is July 16th which means by our count the ACC Network debuts in 37 days (caveat: math here is always suspect).
There’s a certain amount of anxiety about carriage deals but anyone who has paid attention to arguments between carriers and local TV stations knows that negotiations come down to the wire quite often and sometimes a few days late.
Eventually they work it out and we suspect they will in this case too.
Even at this point the ACC has blown past the PAC-12’s inept network (the PAC-12 opted to do everything independently and not surprisingly has little leverage and has never reached an agreement with DirecTV, for example).
However some agreements have not yet been reached, notably: Comcast, Dish and Charter.
As usual though it’s hardball negotiations and many will come down to the end. It’s a terrible time for Florida State to be bad in football because not as many people are going to care. If the ‘Noles were Top Ten, fans would be going nuts and calling all three of those services. They still might but not that many have so far (many of them wouldn’t get the ACC Network if it started today).
We’d like to mention a couple of things to keep in mind here. Obviously everyone involved is (or should) be thinking about cord cutting and so forth. The market is changing rapidly.
However, the ACC has a blessing the PAC-12 can’t have as it exists currently and that’s Disney muscle. Disney can negotiate with cable companies like no one else.
And since we’re talking about the ACC that means look out for the Ninja Commissioner, John Swofford, who can do things pretty quietly until they’re announced.
We’re sure that ESPN/Disney has exclusive rights so it might be hard for the ACC to negotiate with, say, Amazon Prime or Apple. It wouldn’t surprise us in the slightest if one of them wanted to move into sports because programming is critical and there’s a lot of competition for it right now. Sports rights are not cheap but it’s relatively easy to do, it’s predictable and draws a solid audience. And given the money being thrown at programming, sports may start to look like a steal.
The one streaming service that probably doesn’t need sports is the coming Disney launch. Disney is going to come hard at Prime, Apple (Apple has yet to launch but will be lavishly funded) and Netflix. Disney owns Marvel, LucasFilm/Star Wars, 20th Century Fox with the Simpsons and the X-Files, Pixar, National Geographic video content, all of the networks they own (with 7,500 episodes of various shows currently) and their own vast library.
They may not need sports but they’re talking about bundling it with ESPN Plus and Hulu, which would be yet another way to sell the ACC Network: if you buy the bundle you’ll get the network because it’s on Hulu.
So while the ACC Network currently has 20 million subscribers, which isn’t bad, the outlines of an eventual departure from cable are coming into focus: Disney expects to have between 60 and 90 million subscribers by 2024. If (it’s more like when) cable becomes irrelevant, Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus are great exit options. And while Netflix has said they’re not interested in live sports, Amazon and Apple - and don’t overlook Facebook - will likely court sports (Amazon already has to a limited extent) as well.
In short, looking at carriage deals 37 days out is very shortsighted. We think Swofford is aiming for something a lot bigger.