For most of the conference basketball season, fans of Pac-12 teams have been less than pleased with the Pac-12 Network's coverage. That's due, in large part, to a change in how the conference wants to cover games on their seven TV channels. In theory, this change actually makes some sense: One national network and six regional networks, each dedicated to a pair of your teams, allowing more local coverage of said teams while still giving people the chance to watch the flagship network for other events.
It's too bad the theory has worked out to be so spectacularly awful.
The conference has been receiving constant complaints on how it chooses to cover games since January and those grievances have only grown louder with the conference tournament this week. The biggest issue has been that, on some providers (including Comcast), if you do get the flagship network (which many don't because it's not on a basic tier of their cable provider), the local network is broadcast in HD, while the national feed is broadcast in standard definition. The network's response usually goes something like this:
And that's true! But the problem, and I can't believe I'm saying this, isn't with Comcast or Dish (where you only get the national feed and don't get the local channels at all) or whomever your service provider is. It's that, in negotiating the contract with the aforementioned providers, the conference didn't require they provide the Pac-12 Network in high definition. They didn't even require that they provide it on the basic tier!
The network has been fielding countless complaints on Twitter and I'm sure elsewhere. But since basketball season is all but over and this won't really be a problem in softball and baseball season when interest is hyperlocal anyhow, the network isn't going to change anything. They've already stated that this coverage will stick around for football season so if you're a WSU or UW fan in Vancouver, forced to watch the Oregon local ... you're out of luck.
So if the complaints to the network and complaints to your television provider are going to fall on deaf ears -- the latter has already been paid and doesn't care, while the former is going to do whatever is most cost effective -- who will hear them?
To whom should you complain?
Your athletic director or university president. That goes for everyone, not just WSU fans.
When the network was first created, it was seen as a boon for the 12-member universities of the conference. The promised influx of cash helped many schools go on a facilities spending spree, not the least of which was Washington State. Here's the problem though: the influx of cash never materialized. The Pac-12 Networks footprint for their flagship and regional networks is barely 20 percent of what the Big Ten and SEC Network get and the revenue per institution reflects that. We know the Pac-12 CEOs aren't real happy.
There's at least a better chance, given their already sour mood with how things have turned out financially, that the AD's and presidents will care that their fans are mad. Again, I'm not pushing responsibility for this onto them, but they're certainly more likely to take your complaints to people who will actually listen and they'll carry more weight than you screaming about it on Twitter.
Keep in mind, you'd also be voicing your frustrations to a person who, although they can't come right out and say, likely feels at least kind of the same way. The network is underperforming relative to projections, and is far behind the revenues from other conferences' dedicated networks; Bill Moos has a gigantic stadium improvement and football operations building to pay for. He'd like to be able to pay for a baseball clubhouse, an indoor practice facility and, eventually, improvements to Beasley Coliseum. He can't do that with the trickle of money the conference is sending him right now.
How could the Pac-12 fix this?
The simple answer is: go back to the way you were doing it before. Yes, the regional networks didn't really reflect the hyperlocal feel you were going for, but people were happy and they were largely getting all the content they could hope for.
Frankly, there's no other way to do it before the next contract negotiation. But when that time does come, I have a much easier solution for the conference: ditch the regional networks all together. It was a lovely idea but having one national network to broadcast whatever you desire and making extremely low budget, easy to access streaming options on everything else for your customers would seem to be the way to go. Get the flagship network onto the basic tier for all providers, compel them to provide it in HD and I think you'd have a much better set up.
The networks could also sell a stake to another company, like we mentioned earlier. The Big Ten and SEC have both done this and although there's something to be said for wholly owning your network, that only works out if you can negotiate as effectively as Fox and ESPN have on behalf of the networks they partially own. (Which, it certainly appears, the conference cannot.)
Where does everything go from here?
The status quo, for a while. Basketball is effectively over after this weekend as far as the network is concerned and the new formatting for where games are broadcast and when actually works out pretty well for softball, baseball, and other spring sports (unless there's some huge contingent of USC women's lacrosse fans in Portland I'm unaware of).
The chickens will come to roost for the network in September, when they've said they're going to be sticking with the exact same model for football. The conference holds on to some not quite marquee but still pretty good games for the network, as well they should. But if I want to watch Oregon play Arizona State and the game is on the network ... I'm out of luck. Oh, I can watch it on my tablet or computer! But that's not quite what I, or many others, are looking for in a football-watching experience.
Do they stick to their guns or admit, for the time being until negotiations roll around again in a few years, that they screwed up and go back to the way things were when everyone was happy? Putting pressure on your athletic directors and presidents would seem to be the best way to do that. Because if there's anyone most effected by the issues the networks are having ...
/Bill Moos looks quietly at Ernie Kent's contract