Texas Tech has spent months seeking a broadcast partner for its third-tier sports programming and assessing how much and what type of Red Raiders programming to produce and distribute. Last year, as the University of Texas was making headlines with the Longhorn Network, Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said other universities had the opportunity to form networks of their own, be it digitally over the internet or through television.
In September, Hocutt said Tech was researching its third-tier programming options “as we speak.”
Last week, Hocutt discussed how Tech’s plans are coming along.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A-J: Can you update us on what’s new regarding Texas Tech’s plans for its third-tier programming?
Hocutt: We continue to work through the process and have had numerous conversations with Learfield Communications, who is our media rights partner, as well as a number of distribution outlets that are interested in the content, and it remains our goal to have our plan in place by the beginning of the new academic year, so fall of 2012. That being said, it’s hard to anticipate the challenges, the issues, the opportunities that are in front of us. But at the same time, I remain optimistic we are in a position that we will be able to capitalize on the third-tier content that we produce.
A-J: What are the odds of having something in place by fall?
Hocutt: I believe very good. I remain optimistic. There are certain elements that have got to be worked through, which I’m not at liberty to go into detail on at this time. It would be our goal to broadly distribute the content that we’re able to beginning with the next academic year. I’m optimistic.
A-J: What form might it take?
Hocutt: There are a number of platforms. There are a number of opportunities to create a permanent home for your third-tier content. There’s the dedicated 24-7 channel, which requires significant production in content, or there’s the opportunity of working to secure a block of hours on an outlet that would then air your content.
At the current time, it looks like the most feasible option and approach for us would be to secure ‘x’ number of block hours over the course of a given year that we could take our one football game, five or six basketball games, five or six baseball games ... (lists numerous other sports) ... to distribute within this certain block of hours. That looks like the appropriate approach for us, given the information we have at this time and the conversations we’ve had this time.
We would be, in a 24-7 channel, occupying x-hundred number of hours over the course of a given year. When that content is being aired, it would be branded as ‘Texas Tech Athletic Productions,’ ‘Texas Tech Athletic Channel’ or however we determined to brand it at that particular time.
A-J: What would be the biggest obstacle to a 24-7 Texas Tech channel?
Hocutt: I think the content, when you look at the hours that are required to produce, that the viewership is going to have an interest in and the costs associated. The production costs associated with that approach are much more significant. Maybe that is phase two down the road, but right now it seems like the block programming approach is the better approach for us.
A-J: Have you had conversations with universities outside the Big 12 who are taking the approach you describe?
Hocutt: Keep in mind that we are unique in the Big 12 Conference when it comes to controlling third-tier rights. In most other leagues, third-tier rights are retained by the conference, so we’re unique as a league in that regard.
A-J: With that being the case, is this venture sort of the great unknown?
Hocutt: It’s new territory for us, and I think it’s a tremendous opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us to really distribute content with sports other than football that maybe don’t get the distribution they deserve. That being said, the digital opportunities over TexasTech.com and what we can produce and distribute there are endless. It is a new territory for us, but at the same time it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to provide more exposure and branding for our programs and our teams.
I would just keep in mind that 12 years ago Texas Tech was a leader in the country when it came to production of content. When the United Spirit Arena was built, we built a studio in the United Spirit Arena to produce and produce content, and so we have been a leader.
We have not kept our technology up to date, and technology has changed so quickly we are in a position that we’re going to be required to make a significant investment in technology to upgrade from standard definition to high definition in the control room. But we have a footprint for success that has existed for quite some time, and we’ve got talented individuals operating our equipment and producing our content.
Will there be an additional staff investment? Possibly, not certain. But we have a very talented staff and group in place now that will allow us to get this initiative launched as we move forward. A lot is depending, too, on the amount of content that we are going to produce. That’s still an unknown.
A-J: What’s the timeline? What are key dates that must be met to launch by fall?
Hocutt: That depends upon what partnerships we may form. We’re prepared to go digitally over our own web site today. We can take everything that we’re producing and we can create our channel, expand our own channel, through TexasTech.com today. That’s available worldwide. Our goal is to find a broadcast partner to allow us to reach a television audience in this five-state region that we focus on.
A-J: Those five states being?
Hocutt: Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas.
A-J: What will be the cost of the needed technology upgrades you referenced?
Hocutt: The upgrade to high definition equipment and production is a seven-figure investment, so it’s significant. I would anticipate it being $1.2 to 1.4 (million).
A-J: You would pay for that in what way?
Hocutt: Athletic department revenues. We would have to make the investment out of the athletic department budget.
A-J: Would this venture entail creating new jobs or hiring additional staff?
Hocutt: I think that would have to be worked through. We’re fortunate in that what separates us from maybe some other schools is we can produce everything in house. We have the staff to produce basketball games, baseball games, softball games here already (compared to) other programs that maybe have to bring in a production truck or a producer. We have that in house. Those are some expenses that are already absorbed in our annual operating budget. It comes back to how many shows are we going to produce, how many hours are we going to try to fill?
(Hocutt notes that last weekend, Tech’s softball team was playing in Lawrence, Kan., its baseball team was hosting a home series, its track teams were at the Penn Relays and its golf teams were at the Big 12 championships in Lawrence, Kan., and Trinity, respectively.)
To get footage of all those sporting events, it takes a number of production crews out getting that footage. The unknown is how many hours are we going to try to produce and how many events. But it is a great opportunity to allow Texas Tech fans across the country to stay connected. It’s a great opportunity for parents of our student-athletes to watch them during the year, and it’s a great tool for recruiting, for recruits to be able to tune in and watch our programs grow and succeed.
A-J: With how many potential partners have you had discussions?
Hocutt: We’ve had numerous conversations. There have been five or six different partners that have expressed interest, all looking a little different in what they have to offer, all presenting unique opportunities in one way or another. Live sporting content has continued to increase in value, and that’s what we have. That’s what we control with our third-tier rights is live programming content, which does have value.
A-J: So you are expecting a revenue stream from a third-tier programming agreement?
Hocutt: Do we project a certain amount of revenue? Yes. What that amount of revenue is is still to be determined. We’re not that far along in the process where we’ve engaged in those conversations, but the content does have value.
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