The Longhorn Network is still among the most paradoxical creations in the history of sports, as back in 2011, its creation essentially saved the Big XII conference from implosion, and yet here, five years later, it remains a reason that all nine Big XII schools not named "Texas" are at odds with the Longhorns. Weird, huh?
With each passing programming decision at the ESPN-owned financial albatross (The Longhorn Network has reportedly lost $48 million in its five years on the air), its existence becomes more and more ironic. Even the most rudimentary television minds (like me) could see, back in 2011, that this project was ill-conceived, that the only thing it was set up to do really, really well was generate $15 million checks each year for the University of Texas.
ESPN has problems right now that go well beyond the Longhorn Network, namely a generation of television viewers becoming increasingly less dependent on cable television. However, in looking at every penny on ESPN's books, it's logical that the Longhorn Network and its microscopic viewership would be heavily scrutinized by ESPN higher-ups, and, to that end, it was announced on Tuesday that the Longhorn Network would no longer broadcast Longhorn Extra, which is basically LHN's version of SportsCenter, a nightly recap of news and information related to the University of Texas.
Courtesy of hookem.com, here's more on the reasons behind this decision:
“We remain committed to providing quality content for Texas fans through 175 sporting events annually, weekly studio shows and academic programming on Longhorn Network,” ESPN spokeswoman Gracie Blackburn said.
This move comes after the network earlier canceled “Texas All Access,” which was a Hard Knocks-style show that gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look at UT football. The All Access idea will remain integrated with other LHN-related programming, simply no longer be a stand-alone show, Blackburn said.
Longhorn Network will still air “Texas GameDay” and sport-specific shows featuring UT coaches. The Sept. 10 football game against UTEP and the Oct. 15 matchup against Iowa State are both scheduled to air on LHN this fall. The full Texas volleyball TV schedule has not been released, however the network usually airs a majority of home matches.
The continued dwindling of original programming and gradual dissipation of resources combined with what is likely a shrinking subscriber base (given the aforementioned cord-cutting trend) is a harrowing sign for anybody with high hopes of long-term success for the Longhorn Network.
It's fair to wonder exactly what this network is going to be showing a year or two from now. A few live events and a bunch of old recorded shows and archived games? All recorded and archived material? A streaming webcam of Vince Young's living room?
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Fifteen million dollars is a lot of money, and nobody expects Texas to turn down that revenue, but I would be curious what brand damage will be done (or is already being done) by having the university house the skeleton of a once ambitious network. Is it worth $15 million annually to have a network that is essentially a daily reminder of just how national your supposedly national brand is NOT? Is it worth $15 million annually to have your school's network as a punch line around collegiate sports and on talk shows everywhere?
My guess is Texas will cash checks until the LHN money faucet gets turned off, which is bad news for the other nine Big XII schools that would like to create a Big XII Network. So long as the lights stay on at the Longhorn Network, Texas will take their money and run, and Oklahoma and the other eight Big XII schools will jealously watch the SEC and Big Ten schools each cash checks north of $30 million for their conference's television rights.
And, in the meantime, Texas will continue to televise the most lucrative collegiate swim meets and tennis matches on the planet.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.