Viewer’s Guide: Fox banks on noon, game celebrates 150 years
College football celebrates its 150th anniversary this season with the networks focused on the milestone and also on the future.
ESPN still has the lion’s share of significant games, as well as the College Football Playoff, but Fox has made a huge investment in its studio programming as well as making the noon game a centerpiece. Meanwhile, CBS has the Southeastern Conference’s marquee game on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern while NBC hopes for another strong season from Notre Dame.
Here are some things to note on the college football media landscape:
FOX: HIGH NOON
With CBS having the late afternoon window for the SEC and ESPN/ABC putting its most important games in prime time, Fox has decided to plant its flag in the 12 p.m. Eastern window for its spotlight games.
“When you look at college football there were many years when the noon window had the most important games of the week,” executive producer Brad Zager said.
Oklahoma-Texas and Ohio State-Michigan have traditionally had 12 p.m. kickoffs and draw the biggest audiences of the season. Fox is hoping to extend that throughout the season.
“It’s a very smart move. It makes a lot of sense for them to try and dominate that window,” said Dean Jordan, a global media managing executive with the Wasserman media group who has helped negotiate deals for the Big Ten, ACC and College Football Playoff. “The landscape is crowded at 3:30 and there are usually two or three games in prime time between ABC and ESPN.”
The network has made a big investment in its pregame show, hiring Urban Meyer and Reggie Bush along with bringing Brady Quinn in from the booth. They will join host Rob Stone and Matt Leinart, who were part of the old studio crew.
Zager said Meyer was open to whatever position the network thought would serve him best (he was a game analyst with ESPN in 2011). Zager said Quinn was caught a bit off guard by the idea of coming into the studio but started to warm to it the more he saw what was planned.
The group should not be lacking in camaraderie. Leinart and Bush were teammates at USC while Meyer tried to recruit Quinn.
John Dahl, ESPN’s vice president of special projects and original content, has been working on the network’s programming for the 150th anniversary for six years. He said he first started thinking about it when he saw the 100th anniversary logo on Mississippi’s helmet while going through footage of the 1969 season for “The Book of Manning” documentary.
ESPN launched 150 days of anniversary content on Aug. 17, including daily vignettes from former players, coaches and fans about their favorite memories. The first documentary — “Football Is US: The College Game” — debuted after Saturday’s Florida-Miami game. Theme weeks and associated programming will follow. The 11 theme weeks will focus on subjects such as the Heisman Trophy, college football’s culture and the Game of the Century concept.
Dahl said the theme weeks are a good way to include as many eras as possible without going in chronological order.
The SEC Network will debut the six-part “Football in the South” series on Sept. 3.
“We wanted a strong variety of content that defines college football, why it is unique and then came up with different ways to reach fans,” Dahl said. “People have really rallied around it. They see an opportunity once every 50 years where we can define the game.”
With the NFL celebrating its 100th season at the same time, Dahl sees both milestones being able to complement each other because it brings the entire sport to the forefront.
THEN THERE WAS ONE
The Aug. 22 launch of the ACC Network leaves the Big 12 as the only Power Five conference without an over-the-air channel. The Big 12, however, did agree to an expanded rights deal with ESPN-plus earlier this year that creates in essence a virtual network.
While ESPN has deals with DirecTV and Spectrum for ACC Network, it is not on Comcast or Cox. It is on PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV and Hulu Live.
Rosalyn Durant, ESPN’s senior vice president for college networks, said during a recent teleconference that this is the first ESPN network launch that has benefited from the ability to negotiate with multichannel video programming distributors.
“It’s about having, we call it a multiplicity of providers, and we’ve always had the traditional, now we also have the streaming providers to add to that mix,” she said. “We are very pleased with the providers that we already have on board. We wanted this network to be as widely available as possible. Fans deserve that.”