December 5, 2023

Two things have been equally true about the Pac-12 Networks since their launch a decade ago: The business model was all wrong, but the production quality was all right.

The former has been examined relentlessly (here and elsewhere) and helped set the stage for the conference’s current predicament.

The latter is our topic for today.

The equipment powering the Pac-12’s wholly-owned media platforms (both linear and digital) forms the backbone of a cutting-edge technological infrastructure that’s lauded throughout the sports media industry and could prove beneficial during the ongoing media rights negotiations that will make or break its future.

“The Pac-12 has everything you could want in a production facility and can produce all the games for much less than the media companies usually pay,” said a TV sports production veteran who asked not to be identified.

In other words: Bargaining chips.

Over the past 26 days, the Hotline has attempted to outline all possible end-games for the Pac-12, from extinction to survival, so readers are not surprised by any outcome.

We have assessed expansion candidates from the Mountain West, plunged into TV ratings, examined potential mergers and partnerships with the Big 12, analyzed presidential leadership (or lack thereof) and detailed the value of the Saturday night kickoffs.

But we saved the biggest whopper for last: The Pac-12 Networks as savior, and ESPN as their suitor.

It’s just this side of crazy, which happens to be prime territory for realignment strategy and execution.

Consider this Feb. ’22 description from the Sports Video Group, an industry website:

“Upon launching in 2012, Pac-12 Networks instantly established itself as a pioneer in remote-production techniques. Its groundbreaking Multicam production model was a precursor of the remote-production revolution the industry has experienced in recent years, and the centralized-production model has allowed Pac-12 Networks to produce thousands of live events from its San Francisco headquarters for a fraction of the cost of traditional production.”

So advanced is the technology that the Pac-12 Networks have produced games for ESPN and Fox from the San Francisco facility, which features eight control rooms and the ability to broadcast five games at once.

The technology cuts costs because there is no need for production trucks at the competition venues. Only the on-air talent and camera operators are required, whether it’s a gymnastic meet or football game.

A transmission box the size of a mini-fridge — there’s one on each campus — serves as the nerve center for the on-site production.

Video and audio feeds are sent to San Francisco, where the director, producer and graphics designer are based.

The latency is about half a second.

Once one event is completed, the transmission box moves to the venue for the next broadcast on the campus.

Based on what Sports Video Group described as “a dramatic leap forward in production efficiency,” the technology has sliced the cost of producing an event by as much as 50 percent, according to the source.

How does it all fit into the Pac-12’s fight for survival?

Well, the ready-made infrastructure might be tempting if you’re ESPN, which already owns the ACC Network.

ESPN could rent or purchase the Pac-12 Networks facility and create a bicoastal operation that provides cash and stability for the Pac-12 and adds subscriber revenue for the ACC.

(Under that scenario, the conference would remain distinct and thus preserve the ACC’s grant-of-rights agreement.)

On a broader scale, the Pac-12 Networks facility could be turned into an operations hub for ESPN for all West Coast sporting events.

“It’s something ESPN definitely has its eye on,” the source said.

It would be quite the finishing twist — one worthy of the June 30 thunderbolt from Los Angeles that put the Pac-12 in peril in the first place.

We don’t consider this outcome likely, but it warrants a spot on the vast spectrum of possibilities that will, in some form or fashion, shape the Pac-12’s fate.


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