As a young producer for the legendary ABC anthology show “Wide World of Sports,” Pac-12 Networks President Lydia Murphy-Stephans learned all about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Today the onetime Olympic speed skater (she was on the U.S. team in 1984) plays in a far more complex TV sports environment. She became the only woman to run a major national sports channel when she was elevated to her post in 2013. But she shattered the glass ceiling at a time when viewer habits are undergoing a sea change thanks to online streaming.
Launched in 2011, the Pac-12 Networks produces and televises 850 live events and 550 hours of original programs covering the teams of the 12 member schools that own the entity. It provides national or regional coverage of every men’s football and basketball game in the conference not carried by ESPN and other TV rights holders. Half of the live events on the channels are women’s sports.
Murphy-Stephans recently talked about meeting the needs of her audience — and revealed the dress code necessary to succeed in her San Francisco office.
What are the defining characteristics of the Pac-12 fans as opposed to other conferences?
Very sophisticated. We have 12 prestigious universities. I love them all equally though they are very different. We have Arizona and Arizona State. We have Hollywood with UCLA and USC. We have Stanford and Cal near Silicon Valley. They helped us frame our business by being early adopters. We knew when we launched the Pac-12 we needed to launch it in tandem with TV Everywhere [giving subscribers the channels through online streaming] because our fans would consume content on digital devices in addition to linear TV. We hear back from fans – very specifically informing us of their thoughts about announcers, our coverage — and they are incredibly proud of not just what is currently happening in their favorite sport or university, but they share the history and how important that is.
We just went through an Olympics where prime-time ratings were down and streaming was way up. What lessons does a TV sports executive take away from that?
Times are changing. You have your cord-nevers. You have cord-cutters. You have a traditional consumption group. We need to look at trends collectively. We can’t be something for everyone in the old model. Making content available in various ways is an opportunity to super-serve the fan. No longer can you isolate one platform. But you have to make sure the audience is aggregated so it can be sold to advertisers.
You just announced your first “over-the-top” product for Dish Network subscribers that have SlingTV. When can fans expect to get a OTT version of Pac-12 Networks without a cable or satellite subscription?
Pac-12 Networks has been delivered over the top internationally on both YouTube and EverSport and is available in every country in the world outside the United States that has Internet connectivity. We have been evaluating other over-the-top options and expect to roll out more in the future. Of course, they have to work with our business model and can’t undermine the deals we have with our current distribution providers.
You also recently announced a deal where the Pac-12 schools will produce programming that will appear only on Twitter and other streaming platforms without a subscription. What are those consumers going to get?
The timing is terrific because those events will be Olympic sports. We knew the Pac-12 would be incredibly strong in the real Olympic Games. They have a tremendous track record. Around 250 Pac-12 student athletes participated in the Olympic Games – that’s a mix of alumni and current student athletes. Those athletes range from 47 different countries. If the Pac-12 was a country, it would have finished fifth overall in the medal count and fourth in the gold medal count.
What about a digital platform for something like football?
We will tap into the Facebook Live platform during football season. We’ll be producing unique shoulder programming behind the scenes that will allow fans who are watching on the linear screen to have a second-screen experience.
How hopeful should DirecTV customers be about seeing Pac-12 Networks in the near future?
I would love to say very hopeful, but that’s not something I’m in control of. We’re frustrated on behalf of our fans. We definitely have put forth what we believe to be interesting and well-thought-out proposals that will allow DirecTV to carry Pac-12 Networks. I hope consumers who really want Pac-12 Networks [will] impress that upon their carrier.
Do you have a favorite Pac-12 mascot?
I can’t answer that. I can’t even wear the color of a particular Pac-12 university on certain days for fear somebody would think I’m favoring one university over another.