Ever seen a bubble burst?
The NCAA has more than doubled its financial standing in less than eight years thanks, in large part, to an explosion in payouts from cable companies seeking to retain a shrinking subscription base with live sports content.
It hasn’t worked.
ESPN has lost a staggering 10 million subscribers since 2013 with 1.5 million of those lost subscriptions cutting the cord from the months of February to May of this year.
While college football’s blue-blood programs will continue to collect moneybags from the networks, the days of huge TV paydays for underdogs are over. Conference expansion will likely shift from a market grab to a more regionally-focused affair that pits peer universities against one another.
CUSA was the first to feel the effects of the shrinking cable industry when they were forced to negotiate new TV contracts while consumers were canceling their cable subscriptions at record rates. The conference was hit hard, as each school is expected to lose around $500,000 in revenue each year. Rest assured, other group of five programs will fall victim to these same market forces when their current TV contracts expire.
With the status quo withering, the industry must adjust. Streaming content is the future of media consumption, and arguably the present for the millennial demographic.
Conference USA has wisely decided to make streaming content a tenant of their conference platform as a portion of the payout from their new TV contract will be dedicated to improving the production infrastructure on CUSA campuses in order to expedite the creation of compelling, high definition in-house video streams.
The conference has also launched CUSA.tv which will serve as a hub for all streaming content featuring member schools. As CUSA members begin to increase their capacity to create in-house content, those streams will be turned over to the conference to broadcast digitally for a subscription fee. CUSA.tv will also provide direct hyperlinks to streaming content on external platforms.
While Conference USA works to bolster their internal streaming offerings, the league office has turned to ESPN to help fill the streaming gap. Yesterday the conference announced that ESPN will broadcast 28 Conference USA football games on its streaming service WatchESPN.
ESPN is currently committed to carrying 10 games each for men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, and softball. More games are anticipated to be added for football as well as other Olympic sports. With ESPN finally starting to ease its stranglehold of cable-only broadcasts, cable cutters will be able to access live Conference USA events with relative ease.
The full list of Conference USA football games available on WatchESPN can be found here. Noteworthy recent additions to WatchESPN’s CUSA offerings include WKU at Middle Tennessee and UTEP at Rice.
If cable networks are not providing significant payouts then conferences will be forced to find forward-thinking, alternative methods to maximize exposure for its programs. CUSA should be commended for doing just that.