And as it turned out, not only have the two sides not come to an agreement that would put the channel on Mediacom's lineup, but the two sides can't even agree on what the biggest issue that is holding up said placement.
Weiberg was the first party that I spoke with, and when I asked him to generalize the status of negotiations, here was his opening statement:
"I wish I had better news to report, but I don't see any agreement as being imminent. We continue to have a disagreement about a level of carriage. There has been no common ground found at this time relative to price. Those areas continue to be stumbling blocks with Mediacom and well as some of the other large cable companies in the region. We have been at least able to keep a dialogue going with Mediacom, and we have been looking at creative solutions."
Weiberg also added that the Big Ten Network (herein BTN) has nearly 60 small state of Iowa cable providers carrying the programming.
When I asked Weiberg to tell me which issue, from the BTN's perspective, has been the ‘stickiest' issue in negations, either the level of carriage or the price per subscriber cost to the cable provider, he said the following:
"From our standpoint, it has clearly been the level of carriage, the issue of a sports tier verses carriage on the basic level of service. We have had a heck of a time getting off of that point. The big cable companies continue to insist upon it. We have indicated a willingness to talk about price, but when we are still in disagreement about level of carriage, it's hard to have a substantive discussion about price."
At this point, Weiberg also added that he is not personally involved with any of the negotiations, but was passing along was has been reported to him.
In closing, he added, "We know its frustrating for fans and those of us that work for the network."
At that point, I concluded my interview with Weiberg, then welcomed Purcell onto the program.
I asked him to update us from Mediacom's perspective. He must have listened to the interview I had just conducted with Weiberg, as he responded directly to Weiberg's statements that you have just read.
"I can tell you the interesting thing is that the key hurdle he (Weiberg) mentioned was level of carriage." Purcell said. "I know that our company (Mediacom, herein MC) has actually made several offers that include their channel being carried on our Family Cable package. It's interesting that that was his key hurdle. We have always said we wanted to have a fair price for our consumers. The offers we have given to the BTN and Fox Programming have been rejected, because of price."
"One of the things we have offered is to put them on the Family Cable lineup, if we can pay the same average per customer cost that DirecTv and Echostar (Dish Network) are paying across the nation. But at this point, there has been no movement from the price negotiation. I want our customer base to know that we offered to place them on Family Cable. We have been trying to think of different ways to get the content available. We started with the digital tier and ala carte, those have been shot down because they have said placement is not negotiable. That is why we decided to put something in place for Family Cable Carriage."
I then asked Purcell to explain what their Family Cable offering is.
"That would be in the same line as ESPN, ESPN2, Speed Network, so our channels 23 through 78," Purcell said.
Which means, in a nutshell, that if you subscribe to that basic package, you get a piece of cable, plug it into your wall, connect it to your TV, and you don't need a cable box, much less a digital cable box, to get the programming.
It's MC's second most basic offering. Their most basic offering is channels 2 through 22, which is basically your local broadcast channels, Mediacom's Connections Channel, and PBS Kids.
Channels 2-78, the Family Package, is expanded basic, and Purcell said that is what the BTN has been asking for.
So I asked Purcell if the price point was the issue, from MC's perspective?
"From our point of view now, it's 100% about price. I don't think they want consumers to realize that portion. Because when it comes to price, this was free content that people had last year. Now they want dollars out of the consumer's pocket to pay for it. They don't want to be on the price subject, they want it to be on carriage. And we have offered the Family Cable portion, which was (BTN President) Mr. (Marc) Silverman's issue when this first launched. You heard that today, too. We are fine with that. We have given them an offer there, so it seems odd they would be making that as a statement."
So here we stand; both sides unable to agree on what the sticking point's are in the negotiations. Kevin Weiberg of the BTN said on Thursday that the biggest sticking point from his perspective was carriage. Steve Purcell of Mediacom said that they have agreed to carry the programming on the cable tier that the Big Ten has wanted all along, but that the price point is the issue as they see it.
Many moons ago, the Big Ten said that it wanted $1.10 per subscriber from cable companies in the Big Ten footprint region. They have since said that price was negotiable.
Mediacom says it wants the same price that DirecTV and Echostar have negotiated with the Big Ten Network.
Off hand, and I am certainly not up to speed on the finer points of the negotiations, those two satellite providers have millions of customers, where Mediacom in Iowa has somewhere upwards of 400,000 cable providers.
So there you have it; you're as up to date as I am, and it's all clear as mud.