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Free TV viewing dims in cable's UH sports deal

By Ferd Lewis

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 11:30 a.m. HST, Mar 01, 2011

Signs point to University of Hawaii sports moving exclusively to Oceanic Time Warner Cable this fall. That would end more than a quarter-century of free over-the-air television, most recently on KFVE, which has marketed itself as "The Home Team."

In Oceanic's contract with UH, 2011 is described as a "transitional term" in which the cable giant may elect to solely produce and show the state university's sports, which would end a nine-year partnership with KFVE.

Yesterday was listed as the final day of the negotiation window between Oceanic and KFVE, according to the contract. Oceanic's contract runs through 2014 and any decisions on the future of the partnership with KFVE are Oceanic's, a UH spokesman said.

Employees of KFVE — which, along with its family of stations, has aired UH sports since 1984 — said they were told by management recently that "everything" is moving to Oceanic, which plans to inaugurate a new UH channel in the fall in addition to its OC 16 channel, which features high school sports among its programming.

Oceanic's new station will be dedicated, it said, to "all things UH."

Oceanic and KFVE paid UH $2.45 million this past year for TV and pay-per-view rights to its athletic events, all but $500,000 reportedly coming from Oceanic.

More than 100 events were shown on free TV, with another 18 appearing exclusively on the pay-per-view package.

Norman Santos, Oceanic vice president for operations, has not returned phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

STAY TUNED

Oceanic Time Warner Cable is said to be exercising its rights in the contract to take over full production of University of Hawaii sports from KFVE, ending a nine-year partnership.

» Oceanic and KFVE paid UH $2.45 million this school year for TV and pay-per-view rights to its athletic events, all but $500,000 coming from Oceanic.

» During the year, more than 100 events were broadcast on free TV, with another 18 — some football, men's basketball and Wahine volleyball matches — appearing exclusively on the pay-per-view package. With Oceanic recently announcing that a new UH channel will be added to its lineup in the fall, it's likely fans will have to pay to watch UH sports from now on.

» Oceanic has about 400,000 subscribers. Exclusive UH viewing would give it an edge against satellite competitors DirecTV and the Dish Network.

» There likely will be changes in the broadcast teams. Jim Leahey has been the TV voice of UH sports since the 1980s. The KFVE production crew of 20 is also in limbo.

KFVE vice president and general manager John Fink said, "We're still in discussions with Oceanic, and the best thing that I can say at this point is — and I hate to use this term — but (talks) are fluid. We should have some definite information in a few weeks."

Oceanic has about 400,000 subscribers, and exclusive UH viewing would give it an edge against satellite competitors DirecTV and the Dish Network.

As it is, some fans, particularly on the neighbor islands, where cable is not always available, have complained about the inability to get UH games on pay-per-view.

Whether the UH channel would be included as part of basic cable or an element of a premium sports pack-type bundling was not immediately known.

"A lot of things surrounding this are still up in the air," said an Oceanic staffer not authorized to speak for the company.

Oceanic earlier this month began advertising for a "general manager/executive sports producer" to "manage all aspects of Hawaii collegiate broadcasts on Oceanic Time Warner Cable platforms." The position would "assume overall lead, direction, responsibility and oversight for the production and post-production of all sports properties," according to the posting.

Operation by Oceanic is also expected to bring with it some changes among the commentators, some of whom have been doing the games for decades.

After Saturday's UH-New Mexico State game, the final men's basketball game scheduled to be aired on KFVE this season, commentators Jim Leahey and Artie Wilson left hanging the possibility they had worked their last game together after more than 20 years.

"Hopefully (we'll be back) next year, but you never can tell," Leahey told his audience cryptically.

Leahey, who has been the TV voice of UH sports since the 1980s on KGMB and KFVE, and prior to that on radio, is a "year-to-year employee," Fink said.

People in the industry say KFVE has been looking into the purchase of a high-definition TV truck, hoping to secure a production contract with Oceanic and continued employment for its award-winning, 20-member sports crew, much of which has been together since the early 1990s.

The primary production provider for Oceanic has been NEP Supershooters, handling more than 60 events per year for OC 16 as well as working under contract with ESPN and other entities.

The TV deal could undergo additional changes in 2012 when UH switches conferences, moving its football team to the Mountain West and most of its other sports to the Big West.

The Big West move would likely mean minor changes, conference and UH officials theorize. But still to be determined, Mountain West and UH officials say, is whether the school would hold onto any of its football inventory.





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