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ND Athletics: Notre Dame, Comcast launch free on-demand channel

Ken Fowler | Thursday, August 30, 2007

It just got a little bit easier to follow Notre Dame athletics.Cable company Comcast and the University last week announced the start of a new “on-demand” channel that will feature video of games, practices and interviews of all 26 Notre Dame varsity teams. The programming, which digital cable customers can view without charge through the “Get Local” portion of the on-demand feature, began last week for customers in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.More than half of Comcast’s customers in the region have digital cable and thus free access to the content, said Rich Ruggiero, the Comcast vice president for communications and public affairs in the Chicago and South Bend markets.Notre Dame did not charge Comcast a rights fee for the content. Boo Corrigan, the associate athletic director in charge of corporate relations and marketing, said the athletic department views the agreement as a way of expanding the visibility of Notre Dame’s sports teams.”It literally will cover, over the course of the year, all 26 varsity sports at Notre Dame,” Ruggiero said. “Naturally, given the very strong interest in Fighting Irish football, there’s a lot of football content.”Ruggiero said post-game and mid-week news conferences with Irish coach Charlie Weis will be a staple of the programming. Comcast already has added practice reports from the last few weeks and video from freshman media day, which was on Aug. 24.Viewers can search the Notre Dame feature within the on-demand channels and then pick individual clips – whether it be a practice report from a certain day, a news conference after a particular game or player profile – to watch at any time.Corrigan said the University is trying to provide video broadcasts of all Notre Dame home sports games, with the exception of those teams – like football and men’s and women’s basketball – that have third-party television agreements limiting what Notre Dame and Comcast can provide. As a general rule, Notre Dame cannot broadcast video of away contests in sports because the home team’s conference controls the broadcast rights to those games.Corrigan said much of the content will be what is available on the “all-access” portion of the official Notre Dame athletics Web site, und.com. He said the athletic department is trying to provide 40 hours a week of original programming during the academic year, an increase of more than 50 percent from last year.The major drawback of the television programming is that Notre Dame is still working on its Web-to-TV technology. Corrigan said the athletic department hopes for a turnaround time between 24 and 48 hours for all content, though it will continue to work on increasing the speed of the transition.Any geographic expansion of the channel outside the three initial states would have to come by mutual agreement.”This is a great example of what happens when entities – in this case Comcast and the University of Notre Dame – enter a situation with mutual interest and work together to come up with something that’s a great solution for both fans of the University, or alumni, current students, et cetera – and for us in terms of our customers,” Ruggiero said.The deal between Notre Dame and Comcast provides something of a counter-balance to the most important sports issue facing Comcast.The company, which provides cable service to 35 percent of the Big Ten Conference’s regional footprint, is currently in the midst of a public battle with the Big Ten Network, the television arm of the Midwest’s premier athletic conference. The Big Ten Network, which launches today under the leadership of former ABC Cable Networks General Manager Mark Silverman, wants all Comcast subscribers to receive the network and pay $1.10 each month for the network. In a release posted on the network’s Web site, it argues that its inclusion of nearly 400 live events and 600 hours a year of original programming should earn it a spot on basic cable in the eight states that are home to Big Ten schools.But Ruggiero said the $1.10 charge was tantamount to a “13 dollar-a-year tax that people are going to pay to Fox and the Big Ten.”Ruggiero said he had a simple message for Notre Dame fans in Indiana and Michigan: “You’re already paying to support public universities like Indiana University, Michigan State University. Do you really want to further subsidize the athletic programs at universities that are competing with Notre Dame?'”Comcast wants to put the channel on its sports entertainment package, which customers can add for an additional cost, because it believes the network’s lack of marquee football games and dominance of non-revenue sports will minimize its appeal.”With Big Ten, we’ve been very clear that we absolutely would love to add the Big Ten Network to our channel lineup. … But we want to do it in the way that’s best for all of our customers. When you look at the entirety of the year, and you look what the Big Ten’s going to offer [on the network], especially compared to what’s available on other channels, we think the best way to do that is to make it part of … the sports entertainment package. …”That way any customer who wants it, can absolutely get it. But the vast majority of customers, who are probably not going to want the Big Ten programming, aren’t going to be paying for it.”Comcast’s sports entertainment package includes the NFL Network and NBA TV.