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PPV or nothing for UH

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Oceanic Time Warner Cable said it will shortly announce its University of Hawaii pay-per-view sports lineup for the year, a package some fans fear is increasingly cutting them out of following the Warriors football team live.

Oceanic, based upon letters sent out earlier this month to some subscribers, expects to have 12 of the Warriors’ 13 regular-season games in its 18-event, 20-game pay-per-view package, including all six road football games.

With only the Sept. 2 season opener against Southern California — shown by ESPN — outside the pay-per-view offering, UH football fans must either buy the Oceanic pay-per-view package or miss out.

"UH is a public institution, something just isn’t right about dealing exclusively with Oceanic," said UH fan Derrell Saul. "I’m extremely disappointed that UH is ignoring me as a broadcast consumer."

"I’m a little bit surprised that there would be any comments in that regard because that’s exactly how it was last year and the year before and the year before that," said UH athletic director Jim Donovan. "I mean, there’s been no change since … 2002, maybe?"

John Cole, a resident of Mountain View on the Big Island, said, "… the contract with Oceanic purposely excludes thousands of homes across the state — and none that I know think kindly about it."

Cole, who subscribes to DirecTV, said the Oceanic package isn’t an option for him on the Big Island.

"The cost to get cable on our street … is still around $7,500, and that is out of our indulgence range in the best of times," he said.

A UH spokesman said the athletic department has fielded "few" complaints about the arrangement.

In past years, some of UH’s most attractive games — home and away — have been picked up by ESPN under the Western Athletic Conference TV agreement, which satellite customers can receive. The number of ESPN games averaged almost three each regular season over the past seven years. But coming off a 6-7 finish in 2009, only the USC game was selected this year, making this Oceanic’s most extensive UH offering.

When UH first began selling local TV rights in 1984, football and other sports were shown live or delayed on free TV. Since 2002, a majority of its football games and small samplings of men’s basketball and Rainbow Wahine volleyball matches have been included in the pay-per-view package partnered by Oceanic, KFVE and UH.

UH’s football games this season, with the exception of the first three (USC, Army and Colorado), which Oceanic said it does not have replay rights to, will continue to be shown delayed free on Sunday mornings on KFVE.

Oceanic, which has approximately 400,000 subscribers in Hawaii, bought exclusive pay-per-view rights to UH events. Under the terms, UH said, Oceanic is not required to make games available on competing systems and said there will be no change this year, but Oceanic may look at options in the future.

The current contract calls for Oceanic to guarantee UH at least $2.3 million per year. In addition, the school receives a percentage of pay-per-view sales at specified levels.

For 2009, UH received about $2.5 million, down from $2.6 million in 2008. The rights payments were its third highest source of income for a 19-sport program that operates on a $28 million budget.

The UH contract, along with its proprietary OC 16 high school sports channel, gives Oceanic Time Warner a local sports niche that other cable outlets and satellite providers DirecTV and DISH Network are unable to match.

Studies indicate that while satellite subscriptions have grown on the mainland, Hawaii is one of the markets least penetrated by satellite providers. Less than 10 percent here are satellite customers, compared with as much as 30 percent on the mainland.

Though satellite providers do not disclose their number of subscribers here, indications are DirecTV is the sports leader because it has exclusive deals with the NFL, among other major sports leagues.

Jason Gardner, president of The Satellite Guy, Inc., monitors TV trends locally and said, "People that have satellite weigh having UH games compared to the other sports packages, especially pro ball, and decide which is best for them. Some go with UH and sacrifice NFL, MLS, NHL or NBA on a full-time schedule.

"However," Gardner said, "most choose to get satellite and watch UH at a sports bar as it’s still a PPV event that costs extra."

UH has said that season-ticket holders will, for a third consecutive year, be offered the road-game package at a reduced rate. The price will be $99, which the school said is more than $200 cheaper than what will be otherwise available.

There is a clause in the current UH contract that allows Oceanic the option of keeping or dropping KFVE as a production partner beginning in 2011. The window for negotiation begins in two months and there has been speculation that Oceanic could choose to keep everything in-house or continue the mix of over-the-air and cable offerings that total more than 100 events per year that KFVE currently presents.


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