ABC, ESPN team to tackle college football on PPV

ABC Sports will join forces with ESPN to bring back its regional college-football pay-per-view cablecasts for a second year, starting in September 1993.

“This could be the first of many pay-per-view projects for us,” says Dick Glover, senior VP of the recently formed subsidiary ESPN Enterprises. (ESPN was not a part of last year’s PPV football experiment.)

The important element in the package for ESPN, Glover says, is that the cable network won’t be taking anything away from the viewer who doesn’t subscribe to cable. ABC will still telecast each week the college-football game with the most viewer appeal to its over-the-air TV-station affiliates. Cable subscribers who are college-football junkies will get an average of three additional games each week from outside their geographical area.

Analyzing last year’s 12-week package, Reed Rodman, corporate administrator of PPV for Lenfest Communications, a top-25 MSO, says, “My buy rates were low. And they could’ve promoted the games a little better.”

Scott Kurnit, president of SET Pay-Per-View, which was ABC’s partner on the games last year, says, “We went in with relatively low expectations. ABC spent very little money promoting it, less than 1% of what we would put out to promote a championship fight. But everybody made a profit, and it was successful enough to go a second year. I’m glad to see ESPN involved this year because the games will help to grow the whole pay-per-view category.”

Glover acknowledges that ABC had a problem promoting PPV games because the network doesn’t choose them until the last moment to make sure they’re the best contests. But he says ESPN will have the advantage of a nightly sports-news show and regularly scheduled college-football informational series on Thursdays and Saturdays to get the word out about that week’s PPV schedule.

Another big issue, which ABC and ESPN still haven’t resolved, is whether to include commercials in the PPV cablecasts. Sources say the commercialization of the games last year prevented Request TV, a PPV distributor, from signing with ABC. Request’s contracts with the major studios prevent the network from scheduling any shows with advertising spots.

“There’s no final answer” about whether this year’s games will also have commercials, says Glover.

The suggested retail price to the subscriber for last year’s games was $ 8.95 for one game, an extra buck for access to the other two games in a given week, and a season-ticket price for a subscriber buying the whole 12-game package that ranged between $ 49.95 and $ 69.95, depending on the cabler.