You’ve probably heard that the Pac-12 Network isn’t as commercially successful as its peer conference networks. Part of that is because there’s a decent chance that you don’t have it on your cable plan, especially if you don’t live on the West Coast.
But according to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News, the numbers behind the current state of the Pac-12 network are much worse than you thought. For starters, there’s the matter of the Pac-12 Network’s reach.
Information provided to the Hotline by SNL Kagan, the renown media research firm, indicates the Pac-12 Networks have lost seven percent of their audience since the peak in 2016, with much of the decline attributed to the discontinuation of service on U-verse last year.
Per that informationthat information, the Pac-12 Network is estimated to have 17.9 million subscribers.
Thanks to Nielsen cable coverage estimates, here are just 15 channels that reach more people. There are, uh, a lot more.
- BabyFirst (55.9 million), a network that produces content for babies. As a father of a baby, I had no idea there was demand for such content. My baby loses interest before the end of the ABC song.
- BEIN SPORT (21.5 million)
- Boomerang (38.3 million). That’s a channel that shows cartoons.
- Destination America (45.5 million)
- ESPN DEPORTES (18.9 million)
- FOX DEPORTES (21.2 million)
- Great American Country (51.2 million). Its website lists its its top shows as Flea Market Flip, Living Alaska, and Flippin’ RVs.
- Justice Central (28.2 million). This is about court shows, not superhero movies.
- Maxprime (21.2 million), a sub-brand of HBO that’s branded as a home for “Action and Erotic Movies.” Neat.
- Outdoor Channel (34.6 million)
- Ovation Network (45.1 million)
- Pursuit Channel (30.3 million). I was disappointed to learn this is mostly about hunting and fishing content, rather than constant car chases.
- REELZCHANNEL (60 million).
- Smithsonian Channel: (40.3 million). Literally a TV channel about museums, I must assume.
- Z LIVING (19.8 million). I guess this is about health and wellness?
It also goes without saying that the Pac-12 Network lags far behind its peers like the SEC Network or Big Ten Network, or other major sport networks (BTN says it’s in 73 million homes, for example, and hit 30 million subscribers a month after launch). And thanks to the ACC’s partnership with ESPN, it seems like a fair bet the ACC Network will outstrip it quickly as well. A major reason for that? Pac-12 Network also isn’t on AT&T U-verse or DirecTV, and there aren’t any signs that show they’ll get on either platform any time soon.
That’s a problem for a variety of reasons.
Recruits want people to actually be able to watch their games, and coaches want their games visible to showcase their brands. If it’s easier to watch hunting programs or whatever Z Living is than Oregon football, you’ve got a problem.
And if nobody is watching your stuff, you’re not making money. The Pac-12 Network isn’t partially owned by ESPN or FOX, like the SEC or Big Ten Networks, which is a big reason why it’s been harder for them to get distribution. And because distribution is so low, the actual revenue is really low.
Again, from Wilner, here’s what the payouts from the network were per year, per school:
2014: $862,000 per school
2015 $1,677,500 per school
2016 $1,980,250 per school
2017: $2,522,167 per school
2018: $2,666,667 per school
Over the six completed fiscal years of the networks’ existence, the total payout per school, as tallied by campus officials, is $9,708,584 per school — not even at the top end of the single-year range referenced by the source who attended Scott’s presentation.
$2.6 million a year from your network isn’t very much money at all.
That’s less than BYU’s contract with ESPN (which is estimated to be worth $6 to 10 million), and way less than what SEC and Big Ten schools get from their networks.
And, considering the fact that Pac-12 schools had to buy back some of their TV rights in order to transfer them to the Pac-12, the actual profit from the Pac-12 Network could be even less than that.
Wilner estimated that UCLA only actually made about $680,000 a year over the six years of the Pac-12 Network. That is Sun Belt coaching money. It’s lower-level Power 5 coordinator money. Heck, it’s less than what the Sun Belt distributes to its members. It’s less than what AAC members get for their ESPN deal.
Now, this is revenue just from the Pac-12 network. Pac-12 schools still get money from their TV deals with ESPN and Fox, and the league still paid out over $30 million a year to each member. Sure, that’s not nearly as much as other power leagues, but that’s still a lot of money! But considering the fact that Pac-12 schools planned expenses and budgeted on earning, well, more than $700,000 from the Pac-12 network, many schools could be in difficult financial situations soon.
It’s a major reason why the league is considering selling a share of itself, an unprecedented move in college athletics. They could probably skip all these pesky problems if they just let Stanford buy the dang thing. Or, you know, just stop sucking.
It’s hard enough to compete with the Big Ten and SEC.
But if the Pac-12 is struggling to compete with televised fishing shows, it has some other substantial problems.