The Apple TV+ Move To Land The Pac-12 Was Years In The Planning
WASHINGTON — After a very successful launch of the MLS Season Ticket, this weekend it is beginning to look like the in a perfect world the best combination for the Pac-12 media rights would be AppleTV+ and Scripps Sports ION-TV. The combination of the streamer and the over-the-air, cable network solves most of the conference presidents’ issues.
At present, the Pac-12 Media rights saga is nearing the point where the commissioner It is beginning to look as if the Pac-12 conference is very close to a new media with multiple players at monetary numbers good enough to keep all remaining members together for at least between 5 and 7 years. As UCLA and USC head to the Big Ten, the remaining Pac-12 universities have not yet found a media deal to replace the one that sunsets at the end of the 2024 season.
Expect the conference a new deal by the time everyone heads to Las Vegas for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Behind the scenes, the Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has been working on the framework of a new media deal with multiple partners for the best and final offer that he can get the 10 member
Apple TV+ is producing all the regular and postseason MLS broadcasts streaming them to their over 45 million subscribers, meanwhile, 15 of the over 450 games they stream will air on Fox. So, if Apple used that same template to get the exclusive rights to all Pac-12 content they could then work with Scripps Sports – ION TV to broadcast over the air and cable a select number of football and basketball games.
For the record ION broadcast stations currently cover all the top 20 U.S. markets and 37 of the top 50 markets. Plus it is on almost all the major cable systems in the United States plus you can get it on both DirecTV as well Dish satellite networks, ION reaches more than 100 million homes through over-the-air and pay TV platforms, and has the “fifth-largest average primetime audience among all cable-carried networks.
Apple TV+ has been planning to make a run at the Pac-12 for quite a while.
In December 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook a huge sports fan sent one of his top executives Eddy Cue the senior vice president of Services, to meet with then Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott about becoming the home of all the Conference of Champions sports. Cue and Scott went over what it would take to get an exclusive deal that would start in 2024.
The duo played out a scenario where Apple TV+ would make an all-in bid for everything possibly even buying or at least takeover over the Pac-12 Network. In a 2019 interview, my former colleague Tripp Mickle wrote this for the Wall Street Journal about Cue and his thoughts on bidding for the Pac-12, and here is what he said.
“Mr. Cue has questioned the value of a deal with the Pac-12 because it would only give Apple rights to some games, people familiar with his thinking said. He also recognized that if Apple ever secured rights to all the conference’s best programming, it would need to show some of those games on traditional, broadcast TV to satisfy fans.”
Even in 2019 Cue and Cook wanted all the Pac-12 content for their brand-new streaming service. Well, what started back in 2019 has now come full circle as a much stronger Apple TV+ has come calling for an all-streaming deal that would likely include the nearly 800 events scheduled for the 2024 season.
Apple would likely also take over the operation of the Pac-12 Network which because of its state-of-the-art production center allows for events to be streamed remotely from every conference campus and to one of the broadcast center’s five control rooms. There are no remote trucks needed, just camera people and the announcers can be on-site or do the play-by-play from the broadcast center saving Apple thousands of dollars in production costs.
The Amazon/ESPN solution would require Amazon to follow the lead of Apple and take all the conference content and use the Pac-12 Network as a production hub. ESPN could keep the Pac-12 After Dark package. The problem there is we are missing the over-the-air component offered by ION as a total coverage deal. Who stands to get Kliavkoff and his 10 members to accept their best and final offer?
“I do think that there is a deal to be made where Apple TV+ takes over all the inventory as they did with Major League Soccer and as part of the deal there is a football package for maybe eight games over the air for an East coast primetime slot going to Scripps Sports ION TV because both companies want to be in the college football business,” said Gus Davidson a Los Angeles based programming consultant. In the end, being with Apple and having them control and produce every football, and basketball game plus all the Olympic content in a package that is a direct-to-consumer offering gives both the streamer and the conference better control of the distribution as long as Apple takes over the Pac-12 Network.”
According to Rick Davis a retired production consultant. “ Apple is all about having exclusive content and the Pac-12 gives them a Power 5 conference at a bargain rate even if they overpay a bit. Again we are playing this out as a hypothetical because we don’t know if either Amazon or ESPN has changed their position on what they want out of this deal.
While we know that Apple TV+ has been in the game going back to 2019 the new player Scripps Sports ION TV should not be dismissed. A check of the over ratings in 2022 had ION TV listed as the 11th most watched overall network just being edged out of the top 1o by Hallmark, but ahead of TNT, TBS, and USA.
There is a great deal of moving parts here but in the end the Pac-12 can survive and start work on a deal with the ACC once they have the media rights deal done. We expect to know that outcome soon.