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New broadcast facility key to Y.'s TV dreams

A new broadcast building has BYU on the verge of football independence in order to control TV broadcasting rights.
A new broadcast building has BYU on the verge of football independence in order to control TV broadcasting rights.
Jason Olson, Deseret News

PROVO — It sits on a hill, its tall glass facade gleaming in the sunlight, a modern tower housing a state-of-the-art TV studio that rivals anything in the industry.

This 100,000-square-foot building, filled with enough soundproof walls to build another complete building, has a giant belly filled with complicated cables, wires, high-definition production wares and state-of-the art technology that feeds a modern TV studio.

Next to it is a sports studio. All of this can split off four BYU-TV broadcasts simultaneously and is rigged for digital media operations and Internet streaming. This tower of glass and mortar is hard-wired with video and audio HD capability direct to LaVell Edwards Stadium and the Marriott Center, reducing the need for one of those giant TV trucks.

And a truck? BYU owns the best HD production truck in the West.

This network, with its capabilities and instant access to DirecTV and Dish Network's basic platform and 200 cable companies in North America, is at the center of the national story that caught the attention of the college football world this past week.

Yet, few still have caught on.

And this isn't really a new story. It is a chapter in an ongoing saga.

Since the inception of the Mountain West Conference deal with Comcast and creation of the league's network, The mtn., in partnership with Versus and CBS C, BYU's administration has spoken frequently and loudly on how restrictive aspects of the deal were unacceptable.

Part of the complaint is freedom to retain some broadcast rights, while another part is replaying games on BYU's own systems. But nobody listened, until this week.

There is a huge difference between reaching 4 million households as opposed to an estimated 50 million in North America and another 60 million to 70 million in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of South America and parts of Polynesia. That is what BYU's facilities can provide the school and its owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who'd love to couch sports with other programming.

Exposure.

This week, we saw the hammer hit the nail as folks outside BYU's campus — entities like the MWC, the nation's media, the WAC and others — learned that BYU's administration has been exploring options, finding out who its allies are and working to see how it may ply its technology and facilities. Going independent in football was one of many options.

Now, BYU's future remains uncertain as it moves closer to Sept. 1 deadline for the university to decide if it will remain in the MWC or leave. BYU might just continue to study this for another year. It has already done so for nearly four seasons with complaints ignored.

But the dynamics of this past week may change all that. The MWC added Boise State and then grabbed Fresno State and Nevada after losing Utah while facing a threat of BYU departing, too. That impacted the WAC, a possible spot for BYU to place its non-football sports if it went independent in football.

Just how dynamic are things?

Last Wednesday in a teleconference call, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson stated the league would not entertain the idea of making concessions for any one member school. But after a talk with BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson on Thursday, he changed his tune and said the MWC has "shown a willingness to work through some TV issues" in an effort to prevent BYU from declaring independence.

Will that be enough for BYU?

It might.

Comcast, half owner in The mtn., would have to agree to renegotiate the contract. However, since it created the network, it has turned a deaf ear to the issue. But now the MWC's inventory will have changed dramatically since its inception with the addition of TCU, departure of Utah and impending addition of three WAC teams and possibly more if USU or Houston receives a hard look.

The departure of Utah and possibly BYU would be a major blow to the MWC's network. Those two schools clearly have been the biggest audience draw, and when they play one another the rivalry sets records — the best numbers the league can produce. Larger population areas of San Diego, Las Vegas and Denver should pull big numbers for MWC network, but they just do not.

Numbers speak volumes.

The proposed MWC in 2013 has a current average attendance in football of just more than 28,000 per game in their respective stadiums. BYU draws just fewer than 65,000 on Saturdays. The actual TV differential draw may not be that dramatic, but it is a significant bump on Comcast's radar and they know it.

There is no evidence the Fresno, Calif., or Reno, Nev., markets would be any different than San Diego or Las Vegas — places where viewers, subscribers and commercial contracts have just not caught fire, although Fresno is in Comcast cable territory.

The past few years, The mtn. network has featured a lot of Utah-based advertising, like the travel interest to St. George and Mesquite. This year we'll see another Utah-based company start selling its office wares on the league network.

Where is Sea World? Where is Las Vegas and all its glimmer? Who is selling The mtn., anyway, and will we see that "To the Max" advertisement every break for another season?

What is BYU going to do?

Go for exposure.

After a week of tumult in these parts, much of it due to the hammer hitting the nail, athletic director Tom Holmoe said it best: "Things are playing out."

Could it be this was all by design, to finally get things in motion and get some folks with closed minds to open them to change?

Anybody who is brave enough to make predictions is vulnerable to be dead wrong. Be careful of "Done Deal" declarations. Expansion of the Big 12? Further expansion of the MWC and WAC? Independence for BYU in football? the creation of a Super non-AQ conference?

This week, things could change within hours every single day as the situation plays out.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com