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Verizon Inks Internet TV Pacts with ESPN, CBS Sports and Others for College Sports

Verizon Communications, gearing up to launch a wireless Internet TV service later in 2015, announced a series of deals for college-sports programming with ESPN, CBS Sports and others — indicating, perhaps, that the telco considered full sports networks too pricey for the millennial-targeted offering.

The deals, which Verizon also reached with ACC Digital Network, Campus Insiders and Time Inc.-backed 120 Sports, will bring a range of live and on-demand content, including select college football and basketball games.

Verizon expects to roll out the “mobile-first” pay-TV service in the second half of 2015, likely with between 20 and 30 channels, aimed at younger consumers who aren’t interested in full-blown cable TV, CEO Lowell McAdam said at a conference in January.

To date, Verizon also has announced deals with Viacom — granting the wireless carrier rights to distribute MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and other nets nationwide — and with DreamWorks Animation’s AwesomenessTV for two mobile channels stocked with 200-plus hours of video. The telco said it’s reached additional distribution deals that it hasn’t yet disclosed.

Verizon is focusing on college sports, in the belief that it’s especially appealing to younger consumers. “College sports with all of its live programming and networks targeted to millennials are a natural fit for any mobile-first video platform,” said Terry Denson, Verizon’s VP of content acquisition and strategy. “These brands are at the top of the league, and we’re excited to work with them as new content models for our customers develop and evolve.”

The agreements for college sports cover content including:

  • ESPN: select live college football and college basketball games, plus documentaries from ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series;
  • CBS Sportsdozens of live major college games;
  • ACC Digital Network: live events, game highlights, previews, recaps, news and features from the official network of the Atlantic Coast Conference and its 15 member universities;
  • Campus Insiders: hundreds of live events as well as game highlights from schools across the country; live studio and original programming; and classic games via partnerships with the ACC, Big 12, Mountain West, West Coast Conference, Patriot League and A-10; and
  • 120 Sports: live and on-demand news, highlights and analysis aimed at sports fans who consume content primarily through mobile devices.

The Verizon Wireless over-the-top service will be a nationwide service, separate from Verizon’s current FiOS TV.

Last January, Verizon paid about $200 million to acquire Intel’s OnCue over-the-top division. Intel had been developing technology and a service offering to compete with pay-TV providers, but decided to exit the business over cost concerns. In addition, in the last year Verizon has acquired content-delivery network provider EdgeCast Networks and upLynk, which sells managed streaming-video services.

Verizon cited a study from the USC Marshall School of Business’ Institute of Communication Technology Management that found that nearly two-thirds of millennials consider smartphones or tablets — not TVs — as their primary device, and that they’re more likely than other age groups to engage in entertainment activities on their mobile devices.

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