LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Whenever a new ESPN network launches – and these days, that seems like every couple of years – it’s an event. It’s also an opportunity. For the ACC Network, the ninth and latest network to roll out under ESPN’s guidance, that’s especially the case.
At the University of Louisville, Thursday night’s launch was celebrated with a party at the school’s new $8-million plus production and broadcast facility, complete with an ACC Network cake. The network, for U of L and the rest of the conference, is expected to be a game-changer, adding athletics revenue and exposure.
The launch itself was predictably smooth and entertaining. The ACC Network stuck to its guns – its big guns. When you have six reigning national champions, you go where the trophies are. Its introductory show featured interviews with Dabo Swinney, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Tony Bennett, Muffet McGraw and interview segments with Virginia great Ralph Sampson, Duke star Christian Laettner and Florida State QB Charlie Ward (who only played one year in the ACC after FSU joined, but let’s not split hairs).
The team that led the build-up and rollout of the ACC Network has been through this drill before, and it showed.
Less buttoned down was the distribution of the network, which hit the air with some major players, like Comcast, AT&T Uverse and DISH Network still on the sidelines. But those agreements will come. The ACC has been around for a while. And its network isn’t going anywhere, with a rich assortment of programs and media markets from which to draw.
“We’re excited for the launch for a lot of reasons, not just for the economics but for the exposure for the conference and the schools,” Tyra said. “. . . The good news is that ESPN put their A-team on this, in terms of a lot of folks who already launched the SEC Network who have moved over to the ACC Network. It made their forecasts credible, in terms of how they thought they could manage distribution, and the number of subscribers they would have at launch. After a conference call today we’re right on that number, if not a little ahead. There’s still providers out there that they’ll add over time. The hope is that it’ll be an economic decision for Comcast and DISH and others.”
In Louisville, the network was available via Spectrum and DirecTV, as well as some over-the-top providers like Hulu Live, YouTube TV and others.
The initial show didn’t have a huge Louisville presence, but it was represented. Lamar Jackson was in the opening sequence. Teddy Bridgewater appeared in a bump. Scott Satterfield had a short taped appearance, and Eric Wood gave a brief, but frank, appraisal of the Cardinals’ football prospects heading into the season.
And, if there was a better field segment than Louisville native (and former WDRB reporter and anchor) Katie George’s report from Georgia Tech, I didn’t notice it.
Chris Mack’s Louisville men’s basketball team was a heavy topic of conversation during a hoops discussion with Seth Greenburg and Jeff Walz’s women’s team figured prominently in an ACC women’s hoops discussion.
And for Louisville, the chance for exposure outside the usual TV windows for football and men’s basketball is something Tyra is looking forward to.
Satterfield’s Louisville program is getting its own All-Access show, which begins one week from this Sunday. But it’s the Olympic sports that could gain as much as anyone from the new platform, Tyra said.
“Selfishly, for us, we’re in a good spot, because our non-football and men’s basketball programs excel,” Tyra said. “They’re ranked across sports. Men’s and women’s soccer. Swimming, men’s and women’s both in the top five. All those sports that we have up there are now going to get exposure. Like football, there’s a reason Clemson is being showcased. They’re the best. And when you want to launch and be successful, you’re not going to go right away to the bottom half. So if you’re in the top part of the conference, you’re going to be showcased, whether you’re volleyball, women’s basketball or women’s soccer. So if you’re not going to be at the top, you hope you’re playing them.”
The network also will provide opportunity. U of L has not had a journalism school or majors in broadcasting areas. The studio on campus should provide more opportunities for students interested in broadcasting, production or other media areas to gain experience.
ESPN itself is hoping that the ACC Network can be a ground for some innovation. It already has seen some in its main studio.
“For the first time at ESPN, we actually constructed robotic cameras out of scenery, and things that look like end tables now the top flips open and a robotic camera telescopes out of it,” said senior coordinating producer Amy Rosenfeld. “So the whole studio has been a series of that. I think my whole career has been a series of problems leading to innovation. So it’s really cool, and I think the thing that’s complicated but great is that now studio spaces become not just a location to house a bunch of on-air folks, it becomes a content delivery mechanism. So this studio, which has monitors everywhere, is organic and alive and requires and demands that the production team are constantly fueling those monitors to advance the content.”
Over time, some of those innovations will become more visible, including the possibility of virtual reality.
“We’re virtual ready,” Rosenfeld said. “We are experimenting with our capabilities on augmented reality. We are going to be pretty aggressive in the execution of data and analytics as it relates to a storytelling device. I think we’re going to try to incorporate sort of the two tiers of storytelling, which is the human side, the human interest side, but then also what is the next level of storytelling through data and analysis.
"Ultimately the integration of those elements — I’ll tell you, and I don’t say this lightly, and I’m definitely dating myself, but I’ve been doing this a really, really long time, and I’ve worked on really, really big events. I’ve worked on Olympics, I’ve worked on World Cups. I have never been a part of an animation and graphics package that is as forward-thinking and innovative and cool as this ACC Network package.”
And now, after years of speculating and planning and waiting, the network is up and running.
ACC commissioner John Swofford hailed the launch as, “important to the conference because our programs deserve it, our institutions deserve it, our student-athletes deserve it, our fans deserve it, and anytime you can have a network with your label connected to ESPN on the air 24/7, it really positions you tremendously well for the future.”
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