The Big 10 and SEC are at the top of the conference pile financially because of one thing - innovation. Those two conferences made bold moves, Big 10 Network and conference expansion/championship game respectively, and have been rewarded handsomely for it. You can almost solely point to the fruits of those innovations for why those conferences are distancing themselves from the pack.
Which brings up the question - what can the ACC do to similarly change the game, and be there first to reap the rewards? In many ways, they are coming from a position of weakness. Unlike the SEC and Big 10, the ACC can't snap it's fingers and gobble up any schools that will clearly increase the value of the conference. They're going to have to seriously come up with something revolutionary. And here it is: the ACC should make sure that in whatever TV deal it signs, that the conference retains the internet broadcast rights to all programming, including all live games.Internet television content is the wave of the future. Most are familiar with Netflix streaming, but that's just the beginning. There are dozens of internet enabled televisions, blu-ray players, DVRs and set-top boxes on the market now, and that number is growing day by day. Then add all the internet enabled smart phone devices on the market. Which is to say nothing of people who have a computer connected to their TV or watch entertainment on their laptop.
All those devices are starving for great content, and consumers are desparate to drop their cable bills. But there is one major area where internet TV underserves, and that is sports. You have Netflix for movies, and some devices can access Hulu for network television, but live sports is the huge missing piece. The only real player in the market, ESPN 360, has kept it's programming chained to the computer, so you can't access it on your television unless you literally connect your TV as a monitor.
The ACC could be the first sports entity to bring its live games (as well as coaches shows, specials and archived games) to internet devices. This kind of content can definitely be monetized.
There are numerous revenue streams. First, you can sell ads (like Hulu does). Or, it can be a subscription service like Netflix. But the most intriguing thing to me is the idea of partnering for your content. For example, NASCAR partners with Sprint to bring NASCAR content to Sprint's phones. They don't provide live racing broadcasts, but the ACC could partner with any cell company to broadcast their live events, including premier basketball and football games. Everyone knows how competitive the mobile carriers are, what would that be worth?
Or how about partnering with say, LG or Samsung to have ACC content on their blu-ray players? Or with Sony for their TVs? Or with any of the various set-top boxes you may or may not have heard of (Roku, WDTV, Tivo, etc) but nonetheless are in millions of homes. In an emerging market, all these device manufacturers are looking for the content and partners that will separate themselves from the competition.
Or how about selling apps? Apps or widgets for various devices from the iPhone to iPad to various web-enabled TVs could also generate serious money for the conference.
Now, TV networks aren't dumb. Retaining this right will certainly cost the ACC some cash, especially in the case of ESPN who has their own internet streaming application in ESPN 360. But it may not be quite as big a deal to Fox or Versus.
And I would almost guarantee that the TV deals in place with other conferences give up this right to internet content. So the ACC could get a significant head start (15 years in the case of the SEC) in this new area.
Giving up a little guaranteed money up front, considering the ACC is so far behind already, could be well worth the risk if the ACC can bring in the right kind of new media experts to launch a internet content network.