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The Longhorn Network: BEVOD on Steroids

Now that the expansion frenzy has died down -- for the moment at least -- Texas is beginning to work on creating the Longhorn Network, a potential asset they weren't willing to sacrifice to the Pac 10/16

In the Statesman story UT officials give some insight to the planning process and the obstacles facing the project. Startup costs are estimated to be anywhere between $15-30 million. Because of that, Texas is willing to look at having partners in the venture.

"If we put our university name on it, we'd be the controlling partner, but we might not be the total funding partner," said women's athletics Director Chris Plonsky. The Big 10 owns a controlling interest in its network with its broadcast partner, Fox Cable.

BEVOD has been in limited distribution for almost 4 years and is the proposed Longhorn Network on training wheels.

Currently, BEVOD, the UT video on demand service, is available on Time-Warner Cable in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Waco for $3.99 a month. The channel leans heavily on classic games, coaches shows and features on the non-revenue sports.

The new Longhorn Network might have a football game a year and a handful of basketball games that would be available on the channel, but would basically rely on baseball, women's basketball, volleyball and softball for live events.

Baseball will be a lynchpin sport on the new Longhorn Network.

As for football, there would be the opportunity to give subscribers an "insider" feel by broadcasting fall practices, coaches shows, player features, and extensive pre and post game shows around the games.

Texas officials claim to have over 4,000 hours of inventory already available, in terms of past events, current games not on the networks, and other campus features. A cursory look at the Big 10 Network schedule on any week lets you know that the Longhorn Network will also be used for many campus events not connected with athletics.

Distribution obviously is the key factor in getting the Longhorn Network off the ground. Right now UT says it has a little over 6,000 monthly subscribers to BEVOD in its limited release. Again UT looks at the Big 10 Network as a template.

The Big Ten Network is available to cable subscribers inside the eight Big Ten states on either an expanded basic or digital basic level of service. The Big 10 receives 70 cents per subscriber per month within its home base. Outside the eight states, cable operators who carry the network make it available on a variety of packages as an "added-value" channel, and the Big 10 gets 10 cents per subscriber.

For instance, here in Austin, the Big 10 Network is available on the same digital sports tier as BEVOD for $6.99 a month.

The business model Texas will pursue no doubt would have the Longhorn Network available on the basic digital package within the state and then wherever they can negotiate outside the main sphere of influence.

The Big 10 Network went on the air in August of 2007, and this past year it paid out over $6 million to each member of the league. The network is available in 19 of the nation's Top 20 markets. The network currently reaches 40 million households and is available in 73 million. It has national agreements with Direct TV and the Dish Network and has distribution deals with over 300 providers regionally.

Obviously there is strength in numbers in a league network, and there are very few individual Universities who could undertake such an endeavor.

As prepared as Texas seems to be to produce the Longhorn Network, a timetable of 3-5 years to make it into the "huge asset" that UT believe it will be seems reasonable.

That timetable makes saving the Big 12 -- for the time being -- seem reasonable as well.