Are we headed for a Cold War between the Pac-12 and DirecTV?
Jon Wilner provides the basics of the problem as to why the satellite carrier wasn't ready to come to the table and show the network in time for Thursday's season openers.
According to an industry source, talks were progressing until this week, when DTV apparently decided that there wasn’t enough interest in the Pac-12 games currently scheduled for the national and regional networks. (Telling comment here from a DTV spokesman.)
If you still want the Pac-12 Network before this weekend, you'd better find a cable provider in your area that carries the service (sorry Washington D.C. and Chicago, you are still bizarrely screwed by Comcast's own arbitrary reasoning). Go to the Pac-12 Network Channel Finder and request service immediately
Indeed, as was grimly predicted, DirecTV figured that they held all the cards here. They don't really need to come to the table with the Pac-12 right here and right now; the demand simply isn't high enough for them to immediately agree to whatever terms the Pac-12 has put together, and the Pac-12's long-term vision for the network means they're willing to hold to their original ground to get the deal they want.
So in what figures to be a proactive move, the Pac-12 issued this letter to DirecTV subscribers encouraging them to leave their provider.
Could this help? Possibly, especially if the West Coast fans start deserting the conference network. I imagine many of the diehards will start making the switch if they can (Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour has already said as much). If they desert en masse, then this could cause DirecTV to come to the table sooner rather than later.
It's also quite possible too many fans hedged their bets. There were plenty of fans that were hopeful that a deal would be made complained to DirecTV, only to get locked into better deals from DirecTV (usually a discount that isn't too far off what original customers get) and then eventually get the network down the line. DirecTV seemed to lock enough fans in with these discounts that it could undercut whatever leverage the Pac-12 Network has in trying to negotiate the best possible deal. Now if these fans can mobilize as a unit and cut the satellite cord, it could cause enough of a shift that forces DirecTV to move back. That seems to be the only way a deal gets done sooner rather than later.
But will that happen? Remember, a lot of Pac-12 fans signed up with DirecTV in the first place are also general sports fans. You'd imagine a lot of them signed up for DirecTV to view the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which will still only be available on DirecTV. Let's not even talk about the majority of sports fans around at the country who would literally laugh out loud if they were given the choice of unlimited Sunday pigskin and Saturday Left Coast football.
Additionally, a good chunk of Pac-12 games will be available on national telecast, including what figures to be most of the high-profile contests. If USC and Oregon are on national TV 75% of the time, where's the impetus to distribute the network now? It's not like the NFL where a majority of the best games are closed off from most of the country.
In the end, there's a good chance that a majority of Pac-12 fans will stick with DirecTV because they view their other properties as far more valuable than whatever the conference has to offer. And then you'll have a lot of annoyed fans that aren't happy with being forced to change their service for anyone, and other fans in big alumni bases unhappy at being cut off from a good chunk of their games.
I doubt DirecTV will be thrilled about this letter either, and it could set back negotiations down the line. Unless the Pac-12 has an ace in the hole, this could be a huge misstep for them in trying to get national distribution. It remains to be seen what their backup plan will be here.