March 24, 2014
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. -- With spring football practice and spring sports in full swing, the SEC Network continues its march toward its launch Aug. 14. The network recently added DISH as a nationwide carrier, joining AT&T U-Verse, and announced Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer as the lead college football game commentators.
"The DISH Network is a big piece," said Chris Turner, senior director of SEC programming at ESPN. "It enables everyone to get the network at some point. They can change their provider if they don't already have DISH. You can say that it's offered to a national audience.
"The Palmer-Musberger piece is also huge. It gives so much credibility to what we're doing. Putting that many years of talent on those games highlights that SEC football is the preeminent brand in the country, so we're excited about that addition. We hope to continue to roll out those types of announcements over the course of the next few months."
Fans are encouraged to sign up and inquire about the pending availability of the network at GetSECNetwork.com, where they can punch in their zip codes and see whether their providers plan on carrying the channel. It will also show their provider how important it is to have access to the content on the SEC Network.
While DISH, U-Verse and National Rural Telecommunications cooperative (NRTC) are locked up, no agreements have been announced yet with any Mississippi cable providers, further stressing the importance of signing up on the website.
The 24-hour SEC Network and its accompanying digital platform will air more than 1,000 live events during the 2014-15 athletic year, including 45-plus football games, 100 men's basketball games, 75 baseball games, 60 women's basketball games and 50 softball games. As far as selection of games, whether it's football or any other sport, it's less about pecking order and more about making selections and placing games.
"We have the benefit of being the primary rights holder for the SEC," Turner said. "CBS is going to continue to have their selections, and they select those first. We have the advantage that everything else falls to ESPN from that, so we have the ability to move games around and schedule them as we see fit. There is not really a pecking order. It is more a matter of making selections and placing games.
"We have to manage them all and provide the type of content that fans are accustomed to, not only on ESPN and ESPN2, but then we also have a lot of expectations around the SEC Network, so we have to put the type of content that people expect to see there."
On Aug. 28, the network will feature two football games exclusively -- Texas A&M at South Carolina and Temple at Vanderbilt, as well as debut its traveling pregame show, SEC Nation. Similar to ESPN's College Gameday, SEC Nation will air every Saturday during the fall but retain its own distinctive look and feel.
"People come to Gameday because it's become a spectacle unto itself," Turner said. "Our philosophy, especially starting out, is that we're going to where the fans are and trying to offer a different perspective and a different look at the gameday experience from a fan's point of view."
In addition to the Musburger-Palmer broadcast team, other on-air football personalities will include commentator Joe Tessitore and analysts Tim Tebow and Greg McElory, who was announced as the newest member of the lineup on Monday.
Programming will include the expansion of the "SEC Storied" series, a television simulcast of the Paul Finebaum Show and a daily news and information show.
"We're really excited about the expansion of the 'SEC Storied' series," Turner said. "We have had three good years of already building that franchise on ESPNU, so now we're going to be doing 10 of those annually, compared to the four annually that we have been doing. We're excited about that. That storytelling is unmatched.
"We'll have our traditional studio show, which everyone is familiar with and has been accustomed to when they think about watching their sports. There will panels and other types of things that our programming team is working on right now to develop and create. We want to give fans what they expect and have become accustomed to, but we also want to give them some new and different things too."
At least 450 events will be televised on the SEC Network each year, and more than 550 additional sporting events will be available on the network's digital platforms, which will include an outlet, similar to ESPN3, and will be available to network subscribers across a range of devices.
The SEC Network will also be taking over the conference website mid-summer, which will itself be a portal to the network's video and digital content, in addition to distribution information, channel lineup and programming schedules.
"You have the linear network, which is the first screen, the television in your home," Turner said. "Our philosophy at ESPN has always been to put the content on the best screen available wherever you might be, from your laptop, to your tablet, to your handheld device. That's our philosophy as a company, and that's the philosophy that we're carrying over to the SEC Network."
Moving toward the launch date, it's full speed ahead for the SEC Network, whether it's distribution conversations, hiring on both the production, and digital and content side, or filling out the programming schedule.
"More of the immediacy is coming online for the fans," Turner said. "They're excited to see all of the new content. Fans have traditionally had an opportunity to be able to see most, if not all, of this before, but now they're going to have one place to go see it. They don't have multiple channels that they have to go search for it. It's going to live in one home wrapped with the SEC Network banner around it, and we're happy to deliver it to them."
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller