College football to take pay-per-view turn

Phil Jackman

August 19, 1992|By Phil Jackman

On a typical Saturday last fall, there were 10, sometimes a dozen college football games on television hereabout. After a while, you got the impression the only games not on were those involving teams made up of kids actually taking Calculus, Epistemology, English Lit and Assyrian History.

The marathon (ordeal) started with an ACC game in syndication at noon, followed rapidly by offerings from ESPN, TBS, HTS, J-P, BET, the AF of L/CIO and whatever independent stations and local cable operations could scrounge up. The network involved sending along a game in mid-afternoon and/or in prime time was ABC.

Henceforth and sensing the obvious dearth of games once CBS got out of the practice a couple of years ago, ABC is about to step up production and, in conjunction with Showtime Cable, jam even more games into Saturday . . . for a nominal fee, of course.

Usually, when anyone in television looks to increase their domain, they extol their virtue in providing this very necessary service to the fans, the public and, indeed, all mankind.

Fortunately, Steve Solomon of ABC isn't going that route with this pay-per-view effort, pointing out that the network will be incurring "limited cost since we're producing these games anyway."

Besides providing a "free" regional game each Saturday, ABC/Showtime will be making one, two or three games available to viewers from its afternoon coverage schedule.

For example, come 3:30 p.m. September 5, games pitting Texas A&M and LSU, Notre Dame and Northwestern and Southern Cal and San Diego State will be piped into the regions of obvious interest over network affiliates. But say a gent in Cut 'n Shoot, Texas, has a hankering for that school in South Bend and, even if it is Northwestern, he wants a look-see.

That will be $8.95 please. At the same time and for just $1 extra, the subscriber can avail himself of action from the Southern Cal game. He's getting the contest from Baton Rouge already. So, in other words, for $10 a viewer gains access to whatever ABC is covering that day.

Sept. 12, the schedule is even more attractive: Texas at Syracuse, Tennessee at Georgia, Missouri at Illinois, Oregon at Stanford. Sept. 19 will see Florida at Tennessee, Southern Cal at Oklahoma and Illinois at Houston.

Contrary to the pie-in-the-sky expectations of NBC and Cablevision during its TripleCast of the recent Olympics, ABC sees almost any response to this PPV experiment as being positive. "The costs are so minimal," says Solomon, "anything in the 25,000 homes range or better would be classified as a success."

The addressable homes universe of the one-year experiment numbers about 17 million homes over 1,200 cable systems with most possessing the ability to serve as conduit for at least two games. The entire package, covering 11 weekends, will go for $60.

"The problem with the TripleCast besides being over-priced," said a cable spokesman, "was that it was dealing in a product that could be seen for free that evening." Which all but proved he wasn't conversant about what NBC was doing with the prime time hours every night. "What's available for purchase here is something that cannot be seen over the air," he said.

Solomon added, "On balance, I think the TripleCast will help us and subsequent pay-per-view ventures because it created a broad awareness of the technology. Increasingly, viewers are accepting the [PPV] concept and getting comfortable with it."

Last year, its first combining the Big 10-PAC 10 and CFA packages, ABC came away with a 7 rating, which Solomon said, "pleased ABC." Pleasing the net and its cable partner even more this time around are the facts that the PPV game will carry commercials and that there will be no local ad time in the telecasts.

"The reasons it works for the cable outfit [to the tune of taking in 40-50 percent of the income produced] is ABC is producing and marketing the games," said Solomon.

With so many games already available, including many inviting local, regional and national matchups, one wonders if the market can stand another 30 games being tossed into the mix, especially with a fee involved.

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