ACC Network streaming vs. tethered debate rages on while the real challenge lurks undetected

Articles, Sports

While words like “imminent” are being thrown around regarding the launch of an ACC Network, presumably with ESPN as the league’s key partner, the streaming vs. tethered debate has ratcheted up thanks to valuable lessons learned from the Longhorn Network, the Big Ten Network, the SEC Network and the PAC 12 Network. In short, more and more consumers are leaving their cable/satellite subscriptions and buying into more customizable and more affordable programming accessed through streaming services. This, of course, makes the idea of yet another niche network bundled within expensive and wasteful cable packages less than “future proof” as service providers and networks continue to lose subscribers and revenue.

It’s a cool debate when comparing the old vs. the new in television, but putting the pricing and distribution cart before the product horse would set up any form of an ACC Network, regardless of whether it’s part of bundled cable packages or a la carte streaming services, for miserable failure. The biggest decision point for the ACC/ESPN isn’t “how do we get this to viewers”, it’s “how do we get them to want it?”

Ask Clemson and Florida State fans why it’s important to have an ACC Network and they’ll tell you it’s because the SEC has one and if the ACC doesn’t have one too, then they’ll fall further behind. Completely skipping over the foolishness of that answer, ask the other 12 and a half members of the conference the same question and you’ll get at least 8 different answers.

This isn’t the league that (earnestly) chants “ACC” towards the end of non-conference wins. This is the league that hates its best teams. There’s no conference pride, but there’s tremendous pride in being a part of the conference with the most prideful individual fanbases in college sports. Culturally, the ACC is the original 13 colonies, if you will. Connected by geography, but separate and unique. And if ESPN can creatively figure out how to harness that culture, this thing is going to be a success. If not, it could be U2’d directly to every single Apple product in the universe and no one would ever watch it.

So the streaming vs. tethered debate is fun and all, but here’s a way to end it … traditional bundled cable isn’t going to support what the ACC Network needs to do unless you’re going to have 15 different channels dedicated to the ACC.