Bloomington, Ind. - The Big Ten Network is set to launch in less than six weeks. But will Bloomington be watching?
For a majority of residents, the answer to that question could very well be no. While the Big Ten Network (BTN) will be available to DirectTV subscribers as well as through IU's on-campus cable system, Comcast – which has bought Insight Communication's local operation – has balked at including it as part of its basic cable package.
Instead, Comcast wants to include the BTN as part of its sports tier package, which would force viewers to pay an additional fee to receive the network. It's an idea that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman vehemently oppose.
It's also a disagreement that has become very public in recent weeks, and Delany and Silverman have been making the rounds in recent days to Big Ten campuses and other Big Ten markets to speak about the merits of the BTN, why it should be included as part of basic cable packages, and to refute some of Comcast's claims about the cost of the BTN.
Delany and Silverman were in Bloomington Tuesday, and talked about the disagreement between the two sides.
"The main hold up with Comcast is they are adamant about keeping it in a sports tier, and we are very much of the opinion that that is not acceptable to us, and it should be carried in their basic cable package," Silverman said.
Comcast has said publicly that the BTN is the second-most expensive sports network, behind only ESPN. Delany refuted that statement Tuesday, saying that on a national level, the BTN works out to approximately 30 cents per subscriber ($1.10/subscriber in the Big Ten region, .10 out of the region), which is 1/10 of what ESPN costs providers.
He also pointed out that the BTN's rate is less than all of the Comcast-owned sports networks, and significantly less than Comcast's sports networks in such major markets as Chicago and Philadelphia.
The Big Ten Commissioner was obviously frustrated with the fact the negotiations with Comcast have been so public and with many of Comcast's claims about the BTN, which he says aren't truthful.
"They've been very effective and unchallenged in certain ways," Delany said. "Statements like, ‘this is the second-most expensive sports network in America' has been written and re-written and re-written, and it's not accurate.
"We just haven't been very effective in gaining traction on the facts, and that's been kind of disappointing."
The BTN has encountered similar problems in just about every other Big Ten university town. Network officials haven't come to an agreement with Time Warner (Ohio) and Charter Communications (Wisconsin and Michigan) as well, but the biggest beef has been with Comcast, which Delany said is the cable provider for 35 percent of residents in the Big Ten region.
So what happens next? Silverman said the two sides can reach an agreement all the way up to the last few days before the Aug. 30 launch and still make the network available to cable subscribers at its inception. But the two parties aren't even talking at this point – let alone making progress - which has Silverman concerned for local viewers.
"I'm somewhat confident," Silverman said. "I'm less confident than I was a week ago, and each week my confidence wavers a little bit.
"I would consider myself more hopeful than confident. I'm surprised they are taking a tact like this, which I think is completely indefensible and completely abusing their power in the marketplace."
The BTN is hopeful that Bloomington residents and Big Ten fans will contact their local cable provider to voice their displeasure with it for not being willing to pick up the Network. Without that sort of public outcry, the BTN is basically at the mercy of the cable providers, who have the ultimate say on what they provide in their basic package.
"The public doesn't decide what it receives in a bundled package…the governor doesn't decide, I don't decide, the president doesn't decide. Who decides? Comcast decides," Delany said.
Delany and Silverman, meanwhile, are strongly of the belief that with basic packages now consisting of upwards of 60-70 channels, the BTN belongs in that group in the Big Ten region.
"We believe in a world when you receive 70 channels as part of your basic cable bill, which includes the Golf Channel, Versus channel, food channels, shopping channels, that a channel this directly relevant to the Bloomington area and the greater Indiana area is of much more consequence and value," Silverman said.
Big Ten Network Officials Plead Their Case
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