Dick Harmon: How can BYUtv earn money from televising sporting events?

Published: Friday, Aug. 19 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

Ryan Holmes talks about the recently released BYUTV App at BYU in Provo on Friday, July 15, 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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How can BYU make money off any of the 200 sports broadcasts the university plans to air in the coming year?

Isn't it tough for a PBS-type TV station to make dough without asking for contributions on one of those fundraising programs?

A solution to this challenge took place quietly this week when BYUtv and the university signed a contract with IMG, a third party that already sells signage in LaVell Edwards Stadium, the Marriott Center and produces game programs not only at BYU but 200 of the country's major universities.

BYU is on the "cutting edge" of this new kind of television, and the University of Texas and its Longhorn Network is right behind. Both have taken different paths to "monetize" their programming, according to Peter Pilling, conference vice president of IMG College.

BYU will collect money for "brand association" from clients like NuSkin, Zions Bank, Deseret Federal and Vivint. These clients will pay for "mention ad spots" that are restricted from airing what folks in the business label a "call to action." This means the commercial can't include anything that begs to call a phone number, go someplace for a sale or pricing announcements.

The Longhorn Network, on the other hand, is a subscription-based product. If Texas fans want that programming, they'll have the pay-for-view option. BYU has decided not to pursue that kind of model because "exposure" on available platforms is the ultimate goal.

According to BYUtv managing director Derek Marquis, BYU Broadcasting and IMG will partner to create sponsorship packages that includes signage and mentions during live and rebroadcast games, weekly sports magazine series "True Blue" and "BYU Legends," and recently announced countdown and post-game shows with Dave McCann and Alema Harrington.

BYU hopes to "monetize" aspects of its online products such as a new website, BYUtvsports.com, iPhone and iPad apps, Roku streaming devices and other digital products.

Some have suggested that because BYUtv is classified as a "religious channel," it cannot have sponsors or air so many sports, as the channel will begin to look like a "sports network.”

Says Marquis: "First of all, BYUtv is not classified as a religious channel by any of the 600-plus cable networks or satellite companies carrying us. On Dish and DirecTV, the channel is positioned on what is called the Educational Set-Aside tier. Part of our charter is to 'reveal the campus,' and one of the greatest ways we have to do that is through the university's athletic contests.

"Additionally, some have speculated that BYUtv cannot ‘monetize’ its broadcasts. The reality, however, is that the FCC actually requires that noncommercial channels like BYUtv (the same is true for PBS channels) publicly disclose to viewers in the form of on-air announcements all companies that sponsor on-air programs. These are the underwriting announcements people have become used to seeing. "

Marquis said there are some underwriting announcements that BYUtv can't do on air that might be seen in a traditional commercial. "For example, you won't see calls to action or pricing information for products or services. The restrictions are actually only in place by the FCC for our satellite and over-the-air carriage. These restrictions don't apply to what we might do on cable or online. BYUtv's cable carriage, however, mirrors our satellite and over-the-air broadcasts, so we'll probably keep what we do with sponsors the same on those platforms. Online, however, you'll likely see some more traditional advertising. And our online offerings with our new byutvsports.com website and our various apps will be incredible."

BYU doesn’t underestimate the value of “brand” mentions for sponsors. “Our clients really want to have their name identified with BYU,” said Pilling. “They are excited.”

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