Three Months From Launch, President Gary Stevenson Talks Pac-12 Enterprises
When Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott laid out his vision for Pac-12 Enterprises a year ago, it was clear that it would be a media venture unlike anything seen before. It also began an arduous planning and execution process that has been headed since August by Pac-12 Enterprises President Gary Stevenson.
In less than a year, Stevenson and his team have worked to lay the groundwork for seven television networks, a digital platform, and a TV Everywhere strategy, which will all go live when the company debuts prior to the start of the academic year.
With just three months to go until launch, Stevenson speaks about some overarching topics that relate to building the foundation of this ground-breaking project.
The philosophy behind the six regionalized networks and the one national network has been discussed. As for its implementation, what has your approach been to distributing programming and delegating responsibilities?
Our plan is to produce everything from the center in the first few years so that we can ensure consistency in our look and feel across all seven networks. What’s good for us is that were are going to produce 850 events but it’s from only 12 campuses. So, once we know those institutions and those venues, it will make it easier to show up and duplicate. If we were going to 50 different institutions that would make it a little bit more difficult. I think we will get into good habits early on and be able to replicate production from the university once we get to know the personality of each campus.
That said, our engineering and operations teams have spent a lot of time since last December auditing and understanding those facilities and figuring out what needs to be upgraded and what doesn’t. Certainly, football and basketball facilities were all in good shape because they are used to having big-time games there, but, at some of the outlying venues, we may have to lay a little fiber and improve the power somewhat. We were actually pretty surprised at how good a shape the campuses were in for us to come in and produce.
The second thing is, with the success of the commissioner’s television agreement with ESPN and Fox, there are construction projects going on at every campus to upgrade facilities. It is remarkable. So one of the things we have to do from a production standpoint sometimes is produce around those construction projects, but that’s a good problem to have because what we’re going to have is improved venues for all sports at all schools. It’s remarkable to hear about some of the economical malaise that’s going on around the country, but you go to a Pac-12 athletic facility, and you see how much is going on. It’s like a little personal stimulus plan.
On that same note, quite a few schools in the Pac-12 have really good video departments in place. How do you plan to use their talents in all of this, and how will they help supply you with additional programming?
One of the most exciting things for us is the strength of all of our universities as it relates to television production and digital production. It’s remarkable the talent that’s on the campuses, and we plan on tapping into that talent. Quite frankly, there is also a lot of student power on those campuses that can help us produce but that also we can help educate and help prepare for their careers after college. So we will absolutely tap into the local expertise, and, as we go forward, a lot of our productions are going to come from the center to begin with, but our parameters are in place. We anticipate more and more production coming from the edge over time.
You’re breaking new ground with this strategy. It’s never been done this way before, but what was there to learn from the Big Ten Network and other predecessors, and have you applied those lessons to your strategy?
We haven’t mirrored ourselves, really, after any other conference or university network. We’ve got great admiration for what the Big Ten has done with the Big Ten Network, and, certainly, [network President] Mark Silverman, [conference Commissioner] Jim Delaney, and their entire team have just been fabulous in helping us get off the ground. But we’re doing this really a little bit different. We’re doing seven networks. The scope and the scale are different. We’re doing 850 events; the scope and the scale of that are different. We’re doing TV Everywhere at launch; the scope and the scale of that are different. So there really isn’t a model out there that we can compare to. But the way the Big Ten has done it and managed it certainly has been useful as we have been doing our planning.
The digital side is a robust catalog of games. You talked about the number of games that will be on the network; there is also all the additional rights for the digital side. How’s the development of that side of the business going?
Great. We believe that we don’t really view ourselves as a television company or a digital company. We view ourselves as a content company, and it manifests itself on different screens. So, as we’re thinking about building this organization, our digital and our linear people are all together. When we’re thinking about content, we’re thinking about it on different screens.
The second thing is, we’ve also spent a lot of time making sure that the fundamentals, like TV Everywhere and how that’s going to look, are consistent with our brand across the board. We are also spending a lot of time working on aggregating all of the athletic Websites under the Pac-12 umbrella. So we’ve worked with three or four schools that we’re going to be managing next year.
Then, we’re also working on what we are calling the “uber-schedule.” It seems like one of the most fundamental things, but it’s one of the hardest things. What you need in order to succeed at this is making sure people know when and where our games are, and there really is no platform that has been built. So we’re going to build our “uber-schedule” that our television partners at ESPN and Fox can use, we can use, our university partners can use, and the media can use. We think that’s really going to be helpful.
The other thing is, we still have 1,400 events that we can stream, and the content and the programming there are really rich. We’re really excited about that. The biggest [challenge] that we’re building a long-term plan on is what to do with mobile: what’s the best way for our content to manifest itself on mobile?
Gary Stevenson will serve as the keynote speaker on the opening day of the College Sports Video Summit in Atlanta on June 6. For more information on CSVS, including a full program and to register, visit www.csvsummit.com.