Game Time: The Longhorn Network -- A Few Programming Ideas

Tonight at 8: Bevo Gone Wild
I often think how cool it must have been to have the first fast-food restaurant in a given town. You plunk down your McDonald's, start flipping about a thousand burgers an hour (quantity over quality when you're that busy), and watch the money roll in.

And then Burger King drops in across the street -- it's still lucrative, but now you have to work harder to make a buck. Then in comes Wendy's...and KFC...and Hardee's...and then even another McDonald's (or ten)...and well you get it. And then I think of how hard it would be to be the fiftieth fast-food restaurant in that town.

Well, the University of Texas chose to remain in the Big 12 earlier this week, and a big reason for it (perhaps the biggest reason) was that the Big 12 was figuratively going to allow them to open the fiftieth fast-food restaurant in the town that is sports cable television.

Translation: Whereas the Pac-10 was going to require all of the University of Texas athletics content to go out over the air of the conference's television partners (Food analogy: Texas would have been just a collegiate sports chef, not a restaurant owner, albeit a very well paid chef.), the Big 12 will allow UT to form the Longhorn Sports Network, or UT Net, or Bevo Tivo, or whatever catchy name they come up with.

This was all a great development for the University of Texas, assuming it works...

To think that the Longhorns' network's succeeding is a given is really placing a lot of faith in the brand of one institution. Proponents of the network will point to the success of the Big Ten Network as niche, collegiate programming that has gained traction in both subscribers and revenue -- the network is a huge catalyst in putting around $22 million per year into the coffers of Big Ten schools.

But the issue becomes content -- the Big Ten Network works because it is centered around several schools, and it certainly helps that many of those schools (despite being large, state-run universities) have largely national followings. In other words, with twelve schools, the Big Ten Network is never lacking for compelling content.

Imagine if you have two talk/sketch shows -- one with twelve writers (and four or five of them are really good) and one with just one amazing writer who has a few friends that float him a decent one-liner or two from time to time. The latter show could potentially be good for a while, but eventually the one writer runs out of steam, or runs out of time in the day, if nothing else. The former show would always be fresh and with that many really good writers it will never be lacking for material.

Vince Young is his own reality show
The Longhorn Sports Network's risk is that it's structured like the "one-writer talk show." Granted, the expectations are scaled way back in terms of overall business as compared to a conference network, but my point is are Longhorn athletics (or any single school's athletics, for that matter) so compelling that it can carry programming 24/7? Maybe. We'll find out.

The question is "How much of a programming burden will the 'Olympic' sports be asked to carry?" I have a daughter who plays travel soccer who aspires to play collegiate soccer one day. It would be an amazing recruiting tool to be able to tell me, as a parent, that I could watch all or most of her games on the Longhorn Sports Network. I would learn how to do a back handspring just so I could do one, I'd be so ecstatic. But the issue becomes how broad is the scope of (a) people willing to watch sports like women's soccer and (b) more importantly, the scope of advertisers willing to sponsor sports that...well, aren't football or men's basketball (maybe baseball, too). They don't call them non-revenue sports for nothing...well, actually they do call them that for "nothing," because that's how much profit they generate.

So how many times do you run replays of UT football games and Top 10 lists of "Favorite Longhorn [fill in noun here]" before people say "this is repetitive, this is boring"? The answer may be "There isn't one," that's what UT is banking on. Because let's face it, in a viewing universe where you're competing with CBS, ABC, a half-dozen flavors of ESPN, all of the regional Fox's, Comcast, and (for mindless "Top 10" type stuff especially) the internet, the University of Texas just walked away from a potentially huge payday with the Pac-10 for the ability to open up the fiftieth fast-food restaurant.

Fortunately, there is something in the state of Texas that the Longhorns have outside of elite football that can help them program their network...ME! You need compelling programming ideas, Longhorn-related of course, well I've got some! Get out your pen, DeLoss....

Tailgate Cape Fear
(starring Casey Hampton)
-- Food shows are all the rage right now, and if food program categories were Olympic events, then anything in the "Gluttony" category would be the popularity equivalent of men's basketball -- the highest of high-profile foodie indulgences. (Signed, Adam Richman.)

The plain, vanilla (easy) answer would be to have former Longhorn heffer Casey Hampton tackle food challenges at various eateries in the Big 12 footprint, but quite honestly watching Hampton take down a 96-ounce chicken fried steak would be like watching a whale eat a chicken McNugget.

I say instead we take advantage of the fear that Hampton could strike into the hearts of Longhorn fans if he were to show up at their tailgate parties with an appetite. So to that end, instead of some organized "challenge", before each weekend of the college football season we'll starve Hampton for the entire week. Then on gane day, we will dress him up like Max Cady (Robert DeNiro's character in Cape Fear -- Hawaiian shirt, white pants, skipper's hat) and then turn him loose on Saturday morning in the parking lot.

There he will find the biggest, baddest, bestest tailgate party and proceed to handcuff the hosts of the party inside their car or SUV while he proceeds to eat every morsel of food. The only rules will be that Hampton must finish all of the food within 30 minutes and he must turn and snarl menacingly at the hosts like a rabid animal between every bite (bonus points if he speaks in tongues like Cady while he's eating).

Frankly, the "fat dude gorging himself to death" has been done already, but the "fat guy gorging himself to death while simultaneously scaring the ever-loving shit out of an incarcerated, innocent family" market is ripe to be captured.

VY-MAN (A Superhero Cartoon) -- We found out this weekend that when Vince Young is around, you just don't flash the "Horns Down" sign. If you decide to do it in his presence, you're showing reckless disregard for your cranium because VY will rain blows down upon you like Frank Costanza scrapping for the last doll at the toy store at Christmastime.

I'm proposing an animated program where Vince Young (mediocre quarterback by day, burnt orange cape wearing superhero of the day) runs all over creation stomping out evil villains like The Sooner, The Ag-guin, and T. Boone Luthor any time they try and display their deplorable hand gestures in public. Surreal "very special episode" will be when Hook Em is actually doing a "Horns Down" (possible heel turn?) only to find out that Sooner superfan Jim Ross had hijacked the outfit, complete with VY ripping off the oversized Hook Em head to reveal Good Ol' JR and having JR drop a "GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY!! I would've GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT too, if it weren't for you MEDDLING KIDS!!!"

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