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Linear ACC network officially coming in 2019

Asexpected, 's and the AtlanticCoast Conference inked a long-term agreement that will yield a linear networkin 2019 and a live events-oriented digital service that will bow in August.

Theagreement, announced during the ACC Football Kickoff media event in Charlotte,N.C., July 21, reflects a 20-year partnership that provides for the extensionof the conference's extant rights deal with ESPN to 2036. Financial terms werenot disclosed. ESPN is the ACC's exclusive worldwide rights holder.

Theaccord affirms ESPN's belief that live sports rights will continue to play asignificant role in supporting the cable programming bundle, which has begun tofray as over-the-top services have gained popularity.

Launchingin August, digital offering ACC Network Extra will be available toauthenticated users who have access to broadband service ESPN3 via WatchESPNand the ESPN app. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said the service, which willfeature over 600 live, exclusive events during its freshman season, and grow toover 900 by 2019, will be available to over 90 million of the sport's giantsubscribers.

Swoffordnoted that the deal provides ESPN with the flexibility to offer the content viaother digital platforms as technology continues to evolve.

Asfor the linear network, it will feature 450 exclusive live events, including 40regular-season football games, more than 150 men's and women's basketball games,and 200 other regular-season contests and tournament games from across theconference's 27-sponsored sports. It will also present news and informationshows, plus original programming. The live-event portfolio will draw from anexpanded men's basketball conference slate that will increase from 18contests currently to 20 games at that stage.

ESPNPresident John Skipper during the press conference expressed "completeconfidence" that the linear network will "launch with nationaldistribution" and will serve as a "superlative showcase for the ACC."

Thebow of the linear network in August 2019 will give ESPN its second dedicatedcollegiate conference offering. The SEC Network (US), offering competition from theSoutheastern Conference, debuted in August 2014 and currently counts more than60 million subscribers, extending the conference's reach well beyond its11-state footprint.

Giventhe shrinking cable universe — ESPN has seen its subscribers substantially over the pastseveral years — it may be difficult for the ACC Network to reach thatsubscriber level.

Otherdedicated collegiate conference networks like the Pac-12 have distributionhurdles; it has yet to reach an accord with AT&T Inc.'s DIRECTV unit, for instance.

Launchedin 2007, BTN (US)(US), a joint venture of 21stCentury Fox Inc. and the Big Ten Conference, also counts over 60million subscribers.