Big Ten Network Anything But Comcastic

Penn State football fans who subscribe to Pennsylvania's largest cable company can forget about seeing the Nittany Lions' games on the new Big Ten Network, at least for the foreseeable future.

The BTN is set to launch next Friday, with Penn State's opener against Florida International being carried by the network the next day. But, after negotiations between the Big Ten and cable giant Comcast stalled this week, the majority of cable subscribers in the state will not be able to see the game in their homes

The game will be available on satellite provider Direct TV.

“At this point, it doesn't look good with Comcast, and the main reason why is they refuse to engage to negotiate to play the network on expanded basic,” Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman said Thursday in part of a special Q&A with members.

Later in the day, BTN partner Fox Cable Networks issued a statement warning Comcast subscribers that they would not get the new network.

“The fact is that Comcast is unwilling to negotiate with us, and it is now clear that it's highly unlikely any agreement will be achieved prior to launch,” said Bob Thompson, president of Fox National Cable Sports Networks. “Anyone who lives in an area serviced by Comcast who wants to make sure they don't miss a game had better make alternative plans.”

The primary sticking point in the negotiations is that Comcast is insisting the Big Ten Network be a part of a “sports tier” digital package that requires customers to pay fees above and beyond the cost to receive basic or expanded basic cable. The Big Ten is insisting that its new network be carried on the basic or expanded basic levels in the eight states that include conference universities.

Comcast contends the Big Ten is asking it to pay $1.10 per subscriber to carry the network on basic or expanded basic packages, and that the fee is simply too high. Silverman disagreed.

“It's not a matter of price, it's a matter of service … you've heard me say it a million times, we want to negotiate,” he said. “It's just gotta be on expanded basic, and all they have said for the [last] six months is sports tier, sports tier, sports tier. And they threw out the $1.10 number, which is, by the way, more than any number that we've ever offered to them.”

Silverman said the conference remains in amicable negotiations with many cable providers serving the Northeast, including Time Warner, the Dish Network and even Verizon FiOS. Recently, the conference struck a deal with D&E Communications to carry games to its subscribers in State College.

“Other than Comcast, most of our conversations right now are productive,” Silverman said. “I'm not a fortune teller. I don't know if we will get the deals done in time. But we are having what I would consider to be productive conversations.”


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