Tom Smart, Deseret News
BYUtv loaded up its HD semi-truck last week for a cross-country road trip to our nation’s capital.
No, one of the Cougar teams wasn’t playing Georgetown. Rather, the truck and BYUtv brass made the trek to Washington, D.C., for "The Cable Show," a broadcast entertainment conference where cable network execs at the local and national levels gather to see what’s new in the industry and discuss emerging trends.
To capitalize on the fact that thousands would see the truck en route, Big Blue (as it’s affectionately called at the network) was given a marketing-makeover.
When a BYUtv blog post showed the HD truck’s new advertising wrap, many Cougar fans — on social media and message boards — expressed confusion and even concern that BYU athletics wasn’t the major focus of the imagery on the truck.
Instead of a larger-than-life image of Kyle Van Noy or Tyler Haws, the truck promoted headshots of the quirky Studio C personalities and the Granite Flats crew. While athletics is represented with a montage of Cougar sports, the majority of the truck was reserved for BYUtv’s other original programming.
Many Brigham Young University athletics fan see BYUtv and BYU athletics broadcasts as synonymous. But once you understand the mission of BYUtv, athletics’ role in fulfilling those related business goals becomes very clear.
Stated simply: BYU athletics is a means to BYUtv, not an end.
A unique mission in television
For BYUtv, the overall goal of attending "The Cable Show" is to expose national and regional TV providers — and the industry at large — to BYUtv and the brand of programming it delivers. While athletics is a big part of that, it’s just that — a part.
Just as BYU athletics is forging a new path in college sports, BYUtv is doing the same in cable television by providing appealing, original, quality family-friendly programming.
“BYUtv is unique because it challenges traditional national and international TV network models with the primary mission of ‘seeing the good in the world,’” Mikel Minor, senior coordinating producer for BYUtv, said.
"Because BYUtv is so unique, the industry is adjusting to its presence. There is a learning curve and an educational public relations opportunity involved in launching and establishing traction with a TV network that does challenge the traditional norm — yet there are constant and clear success indicators. Perhaps the key challenge is overcoming and dispelling any assumptions and stereotypes that may be associated with the foundational culture of the university,” he continued.
Minor came to BYUtv after seven years as a coordinating producer at ESPN where he mostly worked on "SportsCenter." Across the board, BYUtv has sought and brought in talent from the industry to ensure that it provides unique content with extremely high production value.
By doing so, BYUtv generates an audience of loyal, like-minded people who can find programming that matches its values.
There’s nothing in the network’s mission statement about religion or faith. Regardless of religious affiliation, or even a lack thereof, BYUtv seeks to provide content that appeals to anyone looking for uplifting television.
The model assumes that once people see what BYUtv is about, there will be a natural interest in the LDS Church and its mission as well. Exposure for the LDS Church is an added benefit all its own.
Sound familiar, Cougar fans?
The role of athletics
Just as there’s no mention of faith in BYUtv’s mission, there’s likewise no mention of athletics.
This may seem incongruent to Cougar sports fans. After all, when BYU ventured into the unknown world of independent football and joined the West Coast Conference for other sports, there was tons of talk about the role of BYUtv in that venture.
But the mission is better understood when one realizes athletics are playing a role, a front door to BYUtv programming and the Church as a whole.
Sure, it’s a huge deal that BYU alumni across the world can now see the Cougars play nearly every basketball game of football game on a re-broadcast. But it’s a bigger deal that Cougar fans and opposing team fans alike see an ad for "The Song That Changed My Life" or "American Ride" and set their DVRs to record.
“BYUtv sports, which produces more than 125 live events, as well as an average of 85 supporting studio shows and specials each year — provides key value to the network by not only serving the Athletic Department and its worldwide fan base, but also by establishing a high-profile, neutral gateway for casual sports fans and viewers that may not be directly associated or inherently familiar with BYU," Minor said.
No event better illustrates this cause-and-effect than when BYU hosted Baylor in basketball in December 2011.
A national sports network didn’t pick up the game, so BYUtv owned the broadcast rights. Fans in Waco, Texas, were grateful they got to see their Bears win in the Marriott Center. But for BYUtv, better than grateful, they were engaged.
An entire Baylor sports message board thread immediately popped up raving about the quality, neutrality and professionalism of the BYUtv broadcast. It’s worth a read.
Shortly thereafter came the expressions of interest in the network’s other programming.
One poster said, “I would totally watch ‘Dinner with the Dean’ or that biker history show. I was really surprised by their programming, it was like a normal TV station.”
Another said, “The King James Bible show looked good, may have to check it out.”
And on it went. BYU basketball was the front door, but uplifting content was the destination.
Baylor is a Baptist school, so finding values-driven people among its fans isn’t a surprise, but BYUtv believes regardless of school affiliation, it has something good for everyone. BYU sports simply expand the top of the funnel with each new event.
A formula for success
The price of broadcast rights on college athletics TV deals have vaulted into the stratosphere over the last five or so years. People are using DVRs to record TV content and are skipping the commercials. The one programming type that still demands live viewing is sporting events. Thus, advertisers who want people to actually watch their spots see sports as the most viable content to deliver that viewership. Ad rates for sports go up, as does the value of sports programming content.
BYUtv’s model isn’t revenue driven, but the principle remains: BYU sports delivers an audience that will watch ads during timeouts. As a tool for exposure, Cougar athletics may be the best in the toolbox.
Many thought the purpose of BYUtv was to expose Cougar sports to a wider audience. Turns out it’s the other way around. And it’s working.
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