Longhorn Network audience limited

Christine Ayala

As the Longhorn Network enters its third football season, it has made its way into 5.5 million living rooms and dorms but is still not easily accessible to most students living off campus.

Students can watch the exclusive games available on the Longhorn Network on campus or at nearby restaurants, but prominent cable service providers in the area — including Time Warner Cable — have yet to pick up the programming since its launch in 2011. Longhorn Network officials say they do not anticipate expanding programming to large service providers in the near future.

Grande Communications, which is carried in dorms and dining facilities on campus, was the first cable provider to make the Longhorn Network available to viewers. Hemlata Jhaveri, the Division of Housing and Food Services director of resident life, said the Longhorn Network is available to the 7,300 students living on campus. 

At least one television is dedicated to the game in the dining halls on game days, Jhaveri said.

Austin-area bars and restaurants also provide the Longhorn Network to customers. At least nine local venues near campus provide the Longhorn Network programming.

Trudy’s Texas Star restaurant manager John Henson said all Trudy’s locations switched cable service providers to Grande Communications to air Longhorn Network programming to customers, specifically exclusive game coverage.

“Obviously a lot of people don’t have it around here,” Henson said. “All of our locations get people coming to see the Longhorn Network games.”

Henson said Longhorn games are in high demand and help out business with gameday crowds who don’t have access to the network at home and are looking for a place to watch the game.

“We encourage people to come, stay and watch the game,” Henson said. “It’s on all the televisions we have. We have the audio on, and on home game day we have a barbecue smoker outside.”

UT and ESPN formed the Longhorn Network in 2011, agreeing to a 20-year commitment in which ESPN would own and operate the network’s 24-hour Longhorn coverage.

The network will air a few home football games exclusively, including UT games against New Mexico State, Mississippi and Kansas, with analysis by former Longhorn running back Ricky Williams and former University of Georgia quarterback David Greene.

The network’s coverage includes 175 events, broadcasting 20 sports along with studio shows, historical programming and original series. UT football head coach Mack Brown has said he spends six hours per week on the three shows on which he appears.

Last year, Grande Communications President Matthew Murphy said the cable provider covers almost 25 percent of the city and provides service to the UT area. Since reaching a deal with UT Athletics in July, Grande is also the service provider for the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

“Now we not only deliver value to students but enable Texas Athletics to finally have access to LHN and all other channels within their facilities,” Murphy said.

Last September, AT&T U-verse picked up the network following months of negotiation between other cable providers and ESPN. Other service providers offer the network as part of its programming in the Houston area, Kansas City and Illinois among other areas. 

Justin Connolly, Longhorn Network programming vice president, recently said Time Warner Cable and Comcast will not be carrying the network’s programming in the near future. Time Warner Cable and Comcast are major service providers in the Austin and Houston areas, respectively.

Mary Knight, associate vice president of UT’s Budget Office, said the network brings in $10 million every year for the University, half of which is allocated to academics and has led to the creation of half a dozen endowed chair positions for faculty. The other half is allocated to UT Athletics.

Longhorn Network spokeswoman Kristy Ozmun said the network has expanded its programming beyond sports coverage and intends to broadcast events and speakers on campus. Ozmun said students living on campus or in West Campus should have little trouble getting access to the network’s sports coverage.

West Campus apartment complexes are also working to cater to students who want to access Longhorn Network programming in their homes. Some large apartment complexes, like 2400 Nueces, pay extra to cable providers that don’t carry the Longhorn Network to make the network available to students, according to Melanie Carlson, apartment leasing and marketing manager for 2400 Nueces.

Carlson said the 304-room apartment complex, which opened in July, offers the network free for tenants. Carlson said the apartment complex doesn’t rely on the Longhorn Network to fill its rooms, but it is a draw for students.

“We wanted to provide it for our residents because it’s a major incentive for students,” Carlson said. “And a lot of places do not offer Longhorn Network, especially in West Campus.”