As NCAAs End, New Net Begins


Right after the NCAA men's basketball champion is crowned tonight on CBS, the new College Sports Television Network has its own tip-off. At launch, its sole distributor is DirecTV, although network executives expect to recruit more MSOs soon.

CSTV goes on-air around 11:30 p.m. ET today with a 2003 men's college basketball year-in-review.

DirecTV is offering CSTV on its "Sports Pack" tier. The company does not reveal how many of its 11 million subscribers take the package.

CSTV co-founder Brian Bedol, who started up Classic Sports and sold it to ESPN, said the channel is in "late-stage negotiations" with major MSOs and expects to unveil more carriage deals within a month. "These are long-term, seven- to 10-year deals. It takes time to get the terms right."

CSTV has programming deals with more than 1,200 universities and scores of athletic conferences. Some men's basketball and football games are on the schedule, but most programming will be less-covered sports, such as lacrosse, hockey, baseball, volleyball, golf, track and gymnastics.

Operators usually grumble about the high price of sports programming, but CSTV is in a different league, with cheaper college sports. Michael Thornton, DirecTV senior vice president of program acquisitions, says the network has a "reasonable price structure in a world where prices are clearly escalating beyond controllable rates."

Financial details of the DirecTV-CSTV deal were not disclosed.