Big Ten Network, Comcast Announce Deal

The Big Ten Network finally has landed its biggest fish in terms of local and national distribution upon the announcement of a deal with cable giant Comcast Thursday afternoon.

Beginning Aug. 15, Comcast will place the nearly one-year-old channel on the company's expanded basic level of service for the majority of its customers in the seven of the eight states that contain Big Ten universities (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Comcast has no systems in Iowa.).

Outside of the Big Ten states that Comcast serves, Comcast has the option to provide BTN programming on any level of service, including a sports tier.

Comcast has 24.7 million cable customers across the nation.

Comcast's digital customers in the Big Ten states will have access to live Big Ten games and events in high definition, Big Ten programming via Comcast's video-on-demand platform, and a wide array of conference-related content through in addition to television services.

Shortly after the announcement, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany released a statement congratulating Comcast and the Big Ten Network for reaching an agreement.

"We are very pleased with this partnership between the Big Ten Network and Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator. Big Ten fans and Comcast customers will now be able to see the network on linear television, in high definition, and through Video-on-Demand and broadband applications. The network remains committed to working with the remaining cable operators in Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin so that their customers will have the network as well."

Getting carriage on expanded basic in its home market – along with a reported asking price of $1.10 per subscriber – was a main sticking point in negotiations between the BTN and major cable providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the main provider of cable service in Ohio.

Although no pricing details were released, the carriage level would seem to indicate the BTN got what it wanted in terms of availability for Comcast customers. However, there is a catch.

According to the terms of the agreement, Comcast may elect in spring 2009 to move the network to what it terms "a broadly distributed digital level of service" in most of its systems in the seven Big Ten states.

"We are delighted Comcast is the latest entity to carry Big Ten Network programming," Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith said through a release shortly after the deal was announced. "We feel hopeful this development will lead to better negotiations with Time Warner Cable. The partnership with Comcast demonstrates the Big Ten is flexible in trying to provide our fans with high quality programming from the 11 campuses."

In a post on the company's web site dated June 16, Time Warner indicates that discussions between the company, the Big Ten Network and BTN part-owner Fox continued through spring, adding "Talks are expected to be ongoing this summer. We are hopeful that Time Warner Cable and Fox can reach a fair and reasonable agreement prior to football season. We appreciate your patience as talks continue and want to assure you that we will do everything possible to achieve a positive solution for all our customers."

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