SALT LAKE CITY — Pac-12 Mountain isn’t what it used to be.
Increased regionalization, which went into effect in November, has altered the content. Fans wishing to watch all eight games the Pac-12 Network is broadcasting from this week’s conference tournament in Las Vegas may need to do something soon — upgrade.
Local Comcast viewers, for example, who currently get Pac-12 Mountain and not the network’s primary or national feed, may have to pay an additional $14.99 per month in order to watch games that don’t involve Utah or Colorado.
“The way the Pac-12 Networks were designed was to have one national network that showcased all 12 schools and six regional networks to showcase the two schools in that region,” explained Pac-12 Networks president Lydia Murphy-Stephans.
An increase in the production of live events — 850 this year — has made it impractical (not enough telecast windows) to put everything on one network. The increased inventory has allowed the Pac-12 to fully utilize its regional operations, which include Arizona, Bay Area, Los Angeles, Mountain, Oregon and Washington.
Murphy-Stephans referred to it as “icing on the cake.”
A Pac-12 Networks official said this was the plan since the broadcast operations were launched four years ago. Under the current programming plan, each game of the Pac-12 tournament and other live events like football and more than 100 men’s basketball games will be carried on the primary network as well as the relevant regional networks. Thus, Utah’s tournament opener Thursday against UCLA or USC will be carried only on the national feed as well as the Los Angeles and Mountain (Utah and Colorado) networks. The four other regional operations will not carry the game.
So, in a nutshell, Pac-12 Mountain will only carry games involving Colorado and Utah from now on.
To resolve the issue, officials have asked Comcast and all other providers to add the primary Pac-12 Network to their basic packages in HD. Comcast, for one, is currently offering the national feed in sports tier packages and in standard definition.
“Each provider makes the decision on how they would like to distribute the Pac-12 Networks to its customer base,” said Murphy-Stephans, who noted that they’ve recommended each carry the national operation as its primary network so that fans can watch games that aren’t regional and view every championship event.
“They are slow to respond. We have pushed them,” Murphy-Stephans said. “We have been encouraging all providers to make this — we are calling it ‘the flip’ — switch for more than six months.”
At the present time, Time-Warner carries the Pac-12 Network and all the regional networks in a tiered structure. Comcast also offers all seven networks in some places. Murphy-Stephans also noted that Cox carries only Pac-12 Arizona and Pac-12 Los Angeles at this time and that Dish Network offers the national broadcast.
“So each one is different depending on what their business philosophy is,” she said.
Murphy-Stephans believes that the Pac-12 Networks have a solid foundation and deliver quality programming. The main focus now is distribution.
The networks currently have 76 providers and are eager to add more, including large operations like DirecTV, Charter, Verizon, Cablevision and MediaOne. Several independent carriers are also in the mix.
As for the widely reported discussions to get the Pac-12 Networks on DirecTV, Murphy-Stephans said the conference is always pushing.
“We would love to have DirecTV,” she added. “We continue to be optimistic that eventually we will have DirecTV.”
In an ongoing effort for movement, Murphy-Stephans said it would be helpful for DirecTV customers to let their provider know. Pac-12.com has links to let viewers send comments to carriers in order to request such things as making the primary network more readily available.
“We’re making it available and now it's up to fans to help and encourage their providers,” said Murphy-Stephans, who emphasized that it’s not about switching providers, it’s just about letting them know.
Since its debut, the Pac-12 Networks has increased its live productions from 550 the first year to 750 the second. It hit 850 in year three.
The lack of inventory early on, Murphy-Stephans acknowledged, led to the seven networks almost looking the same. However, things have and are changing.
“We learned, hearing back from the schools, that they needed better start times,” Murphy-Stephans said. “They needed events across all sports in each season to happen simultaneously, which by scheduling the seven networks we could allow that to happen.”
The current format allows the Pac-12 Networks to produce and broadcast five live events — from five different campuses or all from one — at the same time.
Even so, decisions aren’t made by the individual schools.
“My understanding is with all the business strategies, coverage and times, these things are worked out between the league office, the Pac-12 Networks office and the various carriers,” said Utah athletics director Dr. Chris Hill. “They develop what the strategy is for the best advancement of the networks.”