When the SEC Network launches Thursday at 6 p.m., nearly every viewer in the Chattahoochee Valley will have no trouble finding it.
That is, of course, unless you have Mediacom.
The New York-based company is the only provider that serves the area which has yet to come to an agreement with ESPN to carry the SEC Network. But Mediacom tried to alleviate any customer concerns by assuring that a deal should be coming down the pike soon.
“We are still actively negotiating (with ESPN). We’re very close,” a spokesperson for Mediacom said Tuesday. “We hope to make a statement soon, but nothing is finalized yet.”
Cable TV of East Alabama doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. The National Cable Television Cooperative — which handles negotiations for smaller, independent cable operators across the nation — reached an agreement with ESPN on Aug. 1, which meant CTVEA was officially on board.
“NCTC is pleased to again offer our members access to top-tier sports and family channels under our new agreement with Disney and ESPN Networks Group. The addition of the SEC Network, Longhorn Network and digital platform rights helps strengthen the long-term partnership and enhances the value the agreement brings to members,” NCTC executive vice president of programming Judy Meyka said in a release earlier this month.
The agreement was met with a mixture of excitement and relief for CTVEA. Joan Budd, general counsel for CTVEA, noted the provider was “thrilled to have it” and was always confident a deal would be reached prior to launch.
In fact, she said it could have been finalized even sooner if not for one crucial detail: NCTC wasn’t only negotiating with ESPN for the SEC Network; at the same time, it was negotiating with ESPN’s parent company, Disney, and all the programming it owns, from its myriad ESPN stations to cable channels like A&E and History to a major network (ABC).
Had the Disney renewal come up in, say, December, Budd said an agreement with the SEC Network could have been announced far earlier than Aug. 1.
But such is life in the cable television business.
“The timing was unfortunate because we could not say have the SEC Network even if we had all the confidence that we would get it,” she said. “But you just can’t say you have it until it’s finalized.”
Now, all a CTVEA customer has to do is turn to channel 33 to see what the temporarily dormant SEC Network looks like prior to launch.
“It’s a bright blue screen that says ‘SEC Network,’ ” she said. “We have moved ESPN Classic that used to be on channel 33 and we put the SEC Network there. It’s right down low on your screen with other sports programming and close to other ESPN channels.”
There’s only one thing CTVEA is still working on: getting the SEC Network in high definition.
“It’s going to take a new piece of equipment that we haven’t used before to bring it in on HD. But we’re working to do that and we anticipate having it in HD before the first game,” Budd said, referring to Texas A&M’s game at South Carolina which kicks off at p.m. on Aug. 28. “So the HD should be ready to go by then.”
Other cable distributors in the Chattahoochee Valley are set for the SEC Network launch, too. Dish Network was far ahead of the pack, agreeing to terms with ESPN in March. In subsequent months, Charter, DirecTV and WOW! reached agreements as well.
It’s been more than 15 months since ESPN and the SEC touted a 20-year agreement and rights extension on May 2, 2013. The centerpiece of that deal resulted in the creation of the SEC Network.
Now, all that is left to do is flip “the switch,” as the league described it in a release Tuesday afternoon.
For all the providers that have had to haggle with ESPN since last May, that time can’t come soon enough.
“As soon as they launch on Thursday, it’s there,” Budd said. “So that’s the good news — we already have the stream coming in. The hard part is over.”
HOW TO FIND THE SEC NETWORK: What channel is the SEC Network? That depends on your provider. Check out the list below to see what channel will carry the network when it launches today.
Cable TV of East Alabama: Channel 33 (standard definition); available with CTVEA’s Digital Basic package and above.
Charter: Channels 37 and 308 (standard definition); Channel 811 (high definition); available with Charter’s Expanded Basic and Charter Select packages.
DirecTV: Channel 611; available to customers who have DirecTV Choice or above programming packages.
Dish: Channel 404; available to customers who subscribe to America’s Top 120+ package and above.
*WOW!: Channel 22 (SEC Network primary; standard definition) and Channel 66 (SEC Network overflow; standard definition). Channel 978 (SEC Network primary; high definition).
*According to a spokesperson for WOW!, the difference in the SEC Network’s “primary” and “overflow” channels is a function of programming. “The primary channel will carry the prime time SEC content while the overflow channel will carry additional SEC content that is not main event material. The HD primary channels carry the same content as the standard definition channels, just in HD quality,” the spokesperson said via email.