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BYUtv won't scare away a conference like the Big 12 from inviting BYU

To find out more about how the school's network could influence conference realignment, we called them up to find out.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Typically, when BYU is discussed in a conference expansion scenario, it's joined by two accompanying "buts", as in "BYU is a capable athletic department BUT, there's Sunday play." Or, "BYU would make a lot of sense, BUT, there's BYUtv to deal with."

The issues surrounding Sunday play have been written about several times, both on this website and elsewhere. For a reader interested in what that policy actually entails, and it what it means for say, the Big 12 (or any other conference), details have not been hard to find. But what exactly BYUtv would mean for another conference is a little less clear.

I mean, what IS BYUtv anyway? Regular readers of this website or those who live in the Mountain West area may be very familiar with it, but the internet at large might not have that benefit (I've never had this channel before, for example). Is this a sports network? A church channel? Would it compete with a conference network? Is it just a collection of clips of that one dude getting smashed in the face with a soccer ball?

To help all of us understand exactly what we're looking at here a little better, I called up Mikel Minor, a former ESPN and Comcast producer and the current "Senior Coordinating Producer" for BYU Broadcasting. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Comments in {} constitute commentary from me, and were not part of the interview.

MB:  How would you describe the purpose of BYUtv to somebody who is unfamiliar with the channel and its programming?

MM: BYUtv is unique in that it is owned and operated by BYU, so it is literally an extension of the university. Undeniably, it has the most state-of-the-art production facilities that exist on any college campus, that I am aware of. The other unique thing about it is that it is not a 24/7 sports network. It's designed to be a network that caters to BYU fans certainly, and BYU alums, and people who are associated with BYU through the association of the church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).

That's similar to like, a Notre Dame. In fact, we've have close collaboration with Notre Dame and talk to them quite often. They've been out to visit our facilities several times, and have indicated they would be interested in creating a similar model. But the primary purpose is to provide a conduit of values-oriented programming to a global audience. We reach approximately 60 million homes on our linear platform, but like most other networks, that paradigm is shifting, and we're moving steadily to a more digital, online delivery. Everything that we do is available worldwide, live-streaming.

{Quick aside here, for context. Apples to oranges here, but the Big Ten and SEC networks reach around 70 million homes. The Pac-12 network reaches about 12 million.  60 million is not a small number.}

MB: Let's talk a little bit about the station's specific programming. I think most folks are aware that BYUtv broadcasts BYU athletic events. Outside of church specific programming, like General Conference or a devotional, and sports, what else does the channel show?

MM: The strategy for programming the network is to not specifically program faith-based content. In fact, quite the opposite. We've moved away from that, with the exception of Sundays. On Sundays, you're going to find more religious and faith-based programming. But Monday through Saturday, it's a very eclectic and diverse offering of programming that includes sports. We like to call that the 'top of the funnel'. Sports, by nature, is very agnostic. The thought process is that somebody anywhere in the world can flip through their channels, find a high production value sporting event, they're going to stop and watch that for a while.

As you get farther down, you get original programming like the sketch comedy Studio C. That's a very popular original program. Another is American Ride, that travels the country on a Harley-Davidson and gives you a one-hour history lesson in a very unique manner.

The thing all of these have in common is that they are very 'values-oriented', but they're not overt, in any way, with proselytizing Mormon ideology, or LDS principles. It's just good, wholesome, television.

{Another quick aside, in case you're curious. The TV guide over the next two days includes a show on yoga, a nature documentary, a documentary on former BYU football coach LaVell Edwards, the rebroadcast of the 2012 Weber State at BYU football game, and something called Relative Race. So that's a pretty good mix.}

MB: Let's talk a little more about the specific sports programming. How many live sporting events are broadcast on the station?

MM: We typically broadcast over 135 live sports events a year. That doesn't include football. We do, by current contract, get one football each season. With football, because that's the king of the sports world, we do shoulder programming around the games.

So ESPN, who we work very closely with, will come in and do the live event, and we'll do a one-hour pregame show, and a half-hour postgame show live. Last year, we also launched an all-access show called "Inside BYU Football", where we had embedded camera crews, from the beginning of fall camp through the Las Vegas Bowl. So we support the live event.

As far as basketball, we do quite a bit of live men's and women's basketball. We do that in close collaboration with ESPN, who is the primary broadcaster. We take the rest of the home games that are available, and we collaborate with the West Coast Conference for the road games. That includes the WCC Tournament. We've broadcast the majority of that tournament, in close collaboration, for the last six years.

{Last year, per BYU's official broadcast schedule, BYUtv picked up 12 BYU men's basketball games. That included the bulk of the non-conference schedule, but also a few WCC games.}

MB: It is my understanding that in the independence era, BYUtv also gets rebroadcast rights, correct?

MM: Yes, as we can negotiate them. That's purely up how our legal team is able to structure relationships with primary broadcasters, and that primarily goes to football. ESPN is BYU's primary broadcaster. That said, we have a tremendous relationship with ESPN. I worked there for almost seven years, and I talk to them weekly on an average basis. We have the collaborative relationship, so whatever they need from us, we provide. That's beneficial to them too.

MB: Some fans have compared BYUtv to the Longhorn Network, or other conference-specific TV networks. Do you think that's a fair comparison? What distinctions would you make?

MM: For starters, we're not owned by ESPN, we're owned by BYU. The Longhorn Network is owned by ESPN...I was there when it was conceived and developed.

The other obvious difference is that the Longhorn Network, etc, is 24/7 sports. We're not. And no diss to my good friends who still work at the Longhorn Network, but I think that would be very difficult to do. It's difficult to program that much sports for one university in a 24/7 programming setting.

MB: Let's say BYU football is no longer operating as an independent and needs to roll some of their sports rights into a conference framework. Would BYUtv's mission or function be compromised if they had to show fewer live sporting events, or lost rights to some rebroadcasts?

MM: Absolutely not. In fact, I don't think the paradigm would shift that much from what we're doing now.

One of the big challenges for some of these other conference networks, like the Big Ten, Pac-12, isn't programming, but cutting the pie evenly, and showcasing each of the schools in their conference equitably. That's where BYUtv could be a big advantage, since we're already acquiescing to ESPN, to some extent, in almost everything that we do.

So what we do is come in and provide the robust shoulder programming. Where we really do the heavy lifting is with olympic sports. Our volleyball broadcasts, our women's soccer broadcasts. If we play what-if, and BYU is offered a position in a P5 conference, and that conference decides to establish a TV network around that new membership, I think BYU would be a real asset to that development, since we've been doing it for the last five years at a very high level.

Some fans, and even some in the media look at BYUtv as a detriment, but I look at it as an asset.