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ESPN launching ACC Network, with digital part coming for 2016 football season

The ACC is getting into the conference network game but taking a different approach than we've seen before.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC has reworked its TV deal with ESPN and will soon have its own conference television network. ESPN confirmed the upcoming launch of the ACC Network in a July 21 release.

ESPN and the Atlantic Coast Conference will launch the ACC Network -€” a comprehensive linear and digital network, it was announced today by ACC Commissioner John Swofford and ESPN President John Skipper at the conference's annual Football Kickoff media event in Charlotte, N.C. The 20-year partnership will provide ACC fans unprecedented access to live events via a comprehensive, multi-platform network. It also provides for the extension of the conference's existing rights agreement with ESPN to 2036. ESPN is the ACC's exclusive worldwide rights holder.

The ACC will become the first conference to host a digital-only network three years before the launch of its actual cable network. You can stream the TV feed of Big Ten and SEC Network, but the internet has always been a supplement to cable in this area, not a replacement.

Beginning in August 2016, fans can access more than 600 exclusive live events from across the conference via a digital live-events channel ‘ACC Network Extra', immediately available to users who have access to ESPN3 via WatchESPN and the ESPN app, with that number growing each year.  More than 1,300 ACC events will be distributed across the platforms in 2019 when the linear network launches.

But perhaps the most interesting bit of information for most college football fans here is if Notre Dame football wants to join a conference before 2036, ACC programs averaged a distant fourth in terms of program revenue during the 2014-15 year. Television revenue makes up a significant portion of a school's overall revenue, so the ACC boosting their TV numbers should get them ahead of the Big 12 and closer to the top two conferences. We'll have to wait on how much the numbers will grow.

Early returns suggest this could be a cash cow for the league. The ACC's deal with ESPN was enough to kickstart another round of expansion planning over at the Big 12.

On the basketball side, this deal also means the league will be moving to a 20-game conference schedule when the TV component of the deal kicks in 2019.

Television networks have been a huge boon to the Big Ten and SEC, paving the way for those two conferences to build a significant revenue gap between them and the rest of college football. The Pac-12's television network, meanwhile, has failed to live up to expectations, with each conference member making only a fraction of what teams do in the Big Ten or SEC. Some of this has to do with the conference's prolonged battle with DirecTV, which still does not carry the channel. One would assume that since this will be an ESPN venture, getting carriers to sign on will be less of an issue.