LTS 2011: Bevilacqua Pulls Back the Curtain on Developing Pac-12 Enterprises

With only eight months to go ’til the scheduled launch of the ultra-ambitious Pac-12 Networks, one fact remains clear: there’s plenty of work left to do.

SVG’s sixth-annual League Technology Summit closed with a one-on-one interview with College Sports Video Summit conference Chairman Tom Buffolano, and the primary architect behind Pac-12 Enterprises, Chris Bevilacqua, was forthright about the task at hand.

Chris Bevilacqua, CEO of Bevilacqua Media, discusses development of Pac-12 Enterprises and the challenges it faces prior to its August launch.

“Look, rolling out a network is hard,” said Bevilacqua, who has experience doing so from his days launching CSTV. “From day one, [the Pac-12] has to stay focused on what they’ve already committed to do. Like any media platform, it will evolve over time.”

He described what the conference and Commissioner Larry Scott have committed to as “a first-of-its-kind media company.” No U.S. collegiate conference or any other programmer has launched a collection of networks across a variety of platforms, rather than a sole network.

“Larry Scott wanted to reposition the conference and make it more forward-thinking,” said Bevilacqua. “Larry is a transformative leader and has lots of credibility.”

The goals of the conference’s university presidents included shifting the Pac-12 from a regional conference into the national spotlight while also gathering control of much of the intellectual and media properties that have been distributed among TV deals with various independent broadcasters and marketing deals with IMG College.

“They didn’t want to take any risks,” said Bevilacqua. “We’ve created a product that is both distribution-friendly and technology-friendly.

Fortunately, reinforcements are on the way. Lydia Murphy-Stephans took over her role as executive vice president and general manager this week, joining Gary Stephenson, who was appointed chief executive in August.

The three layers of Pac-12 Enterprises, which is financed primarily through a first-tier $2 billion media-rights deal with ESPN and Fox, include the television division — one national network and six regionalized channels — and a digital platform. The current game plan is to air about 350 games on the national platform and another 500 to populate the regional feeds. The remaining games will be used to program the planned digital network.

Bevilacqua acknowledged that the digital network is the “least developed part of the whole plan” — the company has yet to hire a digital head — and, with more than a thousand live events expected to hit the Web, there’s much to be sorted out.

“There’s no doubt we made a bet on ‘TV Everywhere,’” said Bevilacqua, CEO of the newly formed Bevilacqua Media Co. “The cable industry is still driving this, but the Pac-12 is going to be relying on distributors to create good marketing plans so people know stuff is available everywhere on every device.”

From the production side, there are still many details to be determined, chiefly whether the company will construct its own mobile units, rent, or likely use a combination of both approaches.

Although a workflow hasn’t formally been developed, Bevilacqua said the networks will be supported strongly by the member institutions, most of which have the technology to provide programming to the digital platform.

“One of the great things about college programming is, there’s a lot of it there,” said Bevilacqua. “Most members invested in getting fiber to their major facilities, and everyone’s got their switchers and Jumbotron shows. Today, you already get high-quality content out of the schools.”

He also noted that Pac-12 Enterprises plans to install a mini-studio at every school.

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the 2011 League Technology Summit!

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