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Game Changer

ESPN eyes prime real estate at UT's College of Communication

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 25, 2011

UT's CMB Building
UT's CMB Building

Collaboration or colonization? That's the big question raised by the surprising news that ESPN may be taking over part of the University of Texas' College of Communication for its new 24-hour Longhorn cable network.

When UT and ESPN announced the 20-year, $300 million TV deal on Jan. 19, it was broadly expected that the new all-UT, all-the-time cable channel would move into the Darrel K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. On Feb. 18, university staff were informed that the sports broadcasting leviathan is negotiating to lease the second floor of the CMB building (that's the center of the horseshoe-shaped Jesse H. Jones Communication Center at the corner of Guadalupe and Dean Keeton) and Studio 6B. Aside from surprising college staff and students, the announcement also leaves a shadow over the future of KLRU's studios and offices in CMB. Management at the local PBS affiliate declined to comment on the negotiations. Radio-Television-Film Department Chair Paul Stekler said he is still waiting for details from UT administration but hoped shared space will mean real teaching opportunities and not just a few internships. "It needs to be a collaboration that is of benefit for the entire Communications Department," he said.

Space in the communications complex is at a premium. The School of Journalism and Department of Advertising & Public Relations, as well as KUT Austin, are supposed to move into the $50 million Belo Center for New Media when it opens in June 2012, meaning RTF could take over their old space in the CMA building. Currently, the overstuffed college is scattered across campus, with some staff based down on Lake Austin Boulevard. However, if ESPN is still aiming to launch this coming September, the crush could get worse next fall.

Beyond the short-term issues, any lease would change that space equation permanently, especially in regards to Studio 6B. Used by both RTF students and KLRU for recording and broadcasting, it regularly hosts screenings of student work. As with so much of this deal, it is unclear whether ESPN would get exclusive rights, but, Stekler said, "That studio is very essential to RTF."

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