Big Ten Network Set For Launch

Buckeye fans who hate variety figure to love the Big Ten Network. Soon there will be no need to wade through a 60- or 90-minute SportsCenter on ESPN to get highlights of the Buckeyes and their closest, oldest foes.

A nightly highlights show is just one of the many benefits Mark Silverman said fans of the Big Ten may look forward to when the conference launches its own television network in August.

On top of the Big Ten clip show, the BTN will also have games (both live and classic), high-definition broadcasts, coach's shows and even student-produced programming.

Silverman, the president of the fledgling network, assured those in attendance at a Columbus press conference Monday of as much and more.

However, one thing he could not promise as he and other officials made their eighth stop on a conference-wide tour to promote the network was just who in Ohio will be able to enjoy the new content.

That is because although Silverman said around 40 deals had already been struck with cable carriers across the state, three of the largest – Time Warner Cable, Insight Communications and Wide Open West – are still not on board.

Silverman was proud to announce the recent signing of one relatively large partner, Buckeye CableSystem from the Toledo area, and fans served by satellite carrier DirecTV already know they will be able to tune into the new network when it signs on, but many fans still would be in the dark as of now.

Now, however, is a key distinction, Silverman said.

"On a distribution front, we've made some great progress," he said. "We continue to have very productive conversations with all cable operators."

More than 30 football games – including at least two appearances by each member school – and over 100 regular season men's basketball games are set to be aired in the network's first season. In addition, the network figures to be a boon for both women's basketball (at least 55 games) and Olympic sports (more than 170 events).

The network plans over 1,000 hours of original high-definition programming in its first year, which it says will be a record.

But the question of access figures to be one that looms into the summer.

Although there was one Internet report that a deal had been struck between the BTN and Time Warner, Silverman said that was not true, as did an Ohio State spokesman later Monday afternoon.

The sticking point appears to be two-pronged: access and price.

Within the eight-state conference footprint, the Big Ten desires a spot in the basic or extended basic lineup. That would prevent local customers from having to pay much if any extra to get the channel.

Cable companies, however, are reluctant to expand basic tiers too broadly.

On top of the issue of space, published reports indicate the network wants a per-subscriber premium in the $1.10 range. That is reportedly less than what ESPN gets but more than the NFL Network, another specialized sports entity yet to reach an agreement with companies such as Time Warner despite the addition of live games to its lineup last fall.

While the Big Ten may not resonate on a national scope the way the NFL does, Silverman, a former vice president of Walt Disney Studios, believes member schools and their fans carry more weight on a local level.

"I was at Disney for a long time, and I believe this is a network that cable operators are definitely going to want to carry," he said. "I think this is very different from those networks. I think sports is very much a local product. I think national brands have a place, and I think local brands, especially talking about places like Ohio State, it's a whole 'nother level of passion, it's a whole 'nother level of commitment.

"I know people look to other networks that have struggled for distribution and I've never looked at this network in that kind of a light. I think this is something that the fans of this network and the fans of the school are going to rally around and want to see it, and that whoever their satellite or cable provider is is going to want to provide the programming from it."

Outside the eight-state footprint, Silverman said the network is asking a lower price and seeking to be simply on a digital sports tier.

"Those deals vary tremendously," he said. "We believe that the deals we have on the table are fair and we're making progress on them and we haven't had to vary from any of our initial thoughts of what those deals would be."

Convergence is another issue the network did not face in brokering its initial deals with small cable providers.

Bigger companies have not just TV to worry about but also services such as video-on-demand, wireless phone and broadband connections they are also looking to serve.

The members of the Big Ten have given the network license to produce content to fit any medium of communication, and Silverman said those are some aspects holding up the finalization of some deals.

"There are a lot of moving parts to it," he said, "but our conversations are definitely moving forward in a productive way."


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