The ACC Network will debut next week, but it still remains to be seen just how many area TV viewers will be able to tune in.
The new channel, which is set to launch on Aug. 22, has struck deals with some cable, satellite and streaming companies. But it has yet to make deals to be carried by Cox cable, Comcast cable (Xfinity) or the Dish Network satellite service.
ESPN, which owns the channel, continues to negotiate with cable and satellite providers.
“Negotiations take time, and timing matters here,” ESPN senior vice president for college networks Rosalyn Durant said last Thursday on a teleconference. “We are confident that there will be other announcements in the very near future.
“We are having productive conversations with distributors. … Those conversations continue, and will continue through launch and beyond launch.”
The channel has agreements with four national providers — DirecTV satellite service; Hulu Live TV (as opposed to regular Hulu) streaming service; PlayStation Vue streaming service; and YouTube TV (as opposed to regular YouTube) streaming service.
“We are very fortunate … to already have multiple viable options in place for fans to access the network,” Durant said. “We do believe that the fans continuing to demand it, and fans’ readiness to switch if their home provider doesn’t provide it, gets noticed.
“We have four national providers, so fans … will have access on Aug. 22, regardless of where you live, to be with a provider that offers the ACC Network.”
Switching providers will be fans’ only recourse. They will not be able to turn to ESPN Plus, ESPN.com or the ESPN App.
ACC Network games will be available on the ESPN App and on ESPN.com, but only to customers who already have the ACC Network.
The ACC Network will be available to some area cable customers. The ACC Network has struck a deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative, which includes Shentel.
Shentel marketing vice president Angela Washington said Shentel does plan to add the channel on Aug. 22. She said customers will not see a rate increase in their cable bill “at this time.”
Shentel has customers in Alleghany, Botetourt, Bedford, Franklin, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe counties, as well as in Covington and Radford.
Durant refused to comment on the status of the negotiations with Cox, Comcast and Dish.
A source familiar with the Comcast negotiations said money is at issue. ESPN is charging providers a fee to carry the ACC Network, so Comcast would have to increase customers’ cable bills to pay for it.
Comcast vice president for corporate and financial communications John Demming said Comcast is reviewing ESPN’s proposal to carry the ACC Network. He would not give a timetable for Comcast to make a decision.
A Comcast customer who called the company Monday was told by a technical support employee that Comcast is in negotiations and hopes to have a statement in a few days. The employee said many customers have requested the new channel.
The employee implied that the ACC Network and SEC Network might share a channel number in the Comcast lineup, but Demming said such channel-sharing would never happen.
Margaret-Hunter Wade, Cox’s director of public affairs for Virginia, said Cox does not share details of negotiations.
“We work hard to keep our customers’ costs at a reasonable price,” she said in an email. “So, while we can’t guarantee that the ACC Network will be a part of Cox’s channel lineup, we will make sure our customers are aware of viewing options for their favorite ACC programming.”
A Cox customer who called the company Monday was told by a technical support employee that Cox has not informed its employees of any plans to add the ACC Network in the next few months. The employee said a lot of people have called to ask about the channel and that Cox is looking into it.
A Dish Network spokesman declined to comment about the ACC Network.
ACC commissioner John Swofford said last month that he expected some companies to sign up “at the last minute,” just before the Aug. 22 launch. He said other companies might sign up before the channel’s first football telecast on Aug. 29.
But Swofford also warned last month that it might take as long as three years for some companies to agree to add the channel.
A company might not want to add the ACC Network right now. But whenever a company’s overall “omnibus” deal to carry all Disney-owned channels (such as ESPN and the Disney Channel) expires, Disney/ESPN can simply tell the company it must add the ACC Network as part of a new overall deal.
Durant refused to say last week how many companies seem open to making a deal this month and how many might not do it until their omnibus deals expire in one to three years. She also refused to name which companies might hold off for 1-3 years.
“We’re going to keep going till we get them all,” she said.
ACC Network plans to air 450 live events during the 2019-20 school year, including 40 football games, 150 men’s and women’s basketball games and many other sports.
Virginia’s first three football games will air on the new channel, as will two of Virginia Tech’s first three football games.
“The conference has been amazing with scheduling strong conference games early in the season to … make a statement around the type of quality you should expect on this network,” Durant said. “Regardless of where we are with distribution, you’re going to continue to see quality games on the network.”
The ACC Network Extra digital platform will carry about 900 live games during the 2019-20 school year — but some area viewers might no longer be able to watch it.
Since debuting in 2016, ACC Network Extra has been available on ESPN.com and on the ESPN App to all customers who get ESPN.
But once the ACC Network debuts, ACC Network Extra will only be available on ESPN.com and on the ESPN App to customers who have the ACC Network.
“Because this is part of the multiplatform approach to ACC Network coverage, it is naturally tied,” Durant said.
Aaron McFarling contributed to this report.