BTN President Answers Your Questions

As the football season nears and concerns rise on where Penn State fans can see the 2007 opener, the Big Ten Network's Mark Silverman fields queries from the FightOnState.com community. In this special feature, FOS premium members submitted questions and we passed them along to Silverman. See what he had to say on some tough topics.

The Big Ten Network is set to launch next Friday. The Penn State football team's Sept. 1 season-opener against Florida International will be carried on the new network, and with the BTN scrambling to close deals with many of the major cable providers across the nation, Nittany Lion fans are wondering where they'll be able to see their team.

So we decided to let them ask BTN president Mark Silverman themselves. Earlier this week, we started a thread on our premium message board where PSU fans could submit questions for Silverman. We culled the ones we felt were the best and that covered the key points of interest.

Though this is a wild period for Silverman, he was generous enough to spend some time with us to answers the questions in a phone interview Thursday.

At FightOnState.com, you just don't watch things unfold. If you like, you can be a part of the action, in this instance lobbing questions to one of the most talked-about-figures in the college football world as the season approaches. Read on to see what he had to say. And what you had to ask.

Joypa Asks:
Is this deal with Comcast going to get done? And if not, why the hell not?

Mark Silverman Answers:
At this point it doesn't look good with Comcast and the main reason is they refuse to engage to negotiate to play the network on expanded basic. 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, we want to negotiate, 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. But that's another story.

UncleLar Asks:
Since the BTN has agreed to allow the network to be carried in the digital tier out of market, if the BTN and the national providers, like Comcast, Time Warner, etc., can't come to agreement on carriage in the expanded basic tier inside of the Big Ten market, would the network consider signing out-of-market only deals with those providers?

Mark Silverman Answers:
At this point I wouldn't rule anything out. We want to try and have productive conversations. But just the way these conversations have been going, like with Comcast, their focus has been more on in the market, putting us on a sports tier, and they haven't really engaged out of market at all.

hughpsu11 Asks:
If the age-old saying is correct that the customer is always right, why in the world would a company just starting out not listen to their potential consumers? I know that the BTN will state that they are trying to help the Comcast consumer not have to pay a premium fee. But at the end of the day we are left with no product.

Mark Silverman Answers:
This one I understand. This is a tough question. I think what we need to understand is we are attempting to bring more Big Ten programming — more Penn State programming than ever seen before — on the air. And when people get to see it, we think they'll really like seeing so much of their schools being covered at the level we're trying to cover them. And what we need to do is just get through this time right now; these next few weeks with negotiating and getting these deals done. And I completely empathize with the way fans are feeling about missing these first couple of games. We are hopeful they won't have to, but I just think that people need to realize that we've got over a hundred deals done now. We've got national deals done, we're going to get a couple of these other bigger cable deals done in the next couple of weeks, I believe. Maybe not Comcast, probably not Comcast, but we are trying to do this and it is a long-term agreement. It's something that I do truly understand the frustration people feel at this point.

h2o22 Asks:
As a Comcast subscriber, I already pay for a sports tier so I am able to get a multitude of Fox Sports Channels. And I would gladly pay another $5 a month to watch Penn State games/coverage. In this case is it really Comcast that has been completely unreasonable or is it the BTN that has not been able to put itself in a comparable level to other sports packages?

Mark Silverman Answers:
If you look at the networks that are on a sports tier, there's none that have the kind of the cost structure we do with producing 400 events and 40 football games in HD and 140 Big Ten basketball games. No one on a sports tier produces anything remotely close to that, not only (with) the cost, but the amount and the relevance of the product. And I understand that some people are willing to pay five bucks for this network. But the way this business is currently set up, there are channels that are bundled together that reach a hundred percent of the cable homes. And then there are these other channels that the cable operators separate out to charge more for. And we didn't invent that business, it's just the way cable companies decided to try and generate their revenue and to bill their customers. And if that is the system they're going to continue to utilize, then the only way for a network like ours to survive is to be within the 70 channels that make up basic cable.

Sportsguypsu Ask:
Is there any chance that the Big Ten Network will be available to the Verizon FiOS customers?

Mark Silverman Answers:
Yes, we are negotiating with Verizon right now. It's not done yet, but we are in negotiations.

Think1 Asks:
I live in Upstate New York and I currently have Time Warner and would prefer not switching to DirecTV. Will Time Warner pick up BTN? If so, when might that be?

Mark Silverman Answers:
We are in negotiations with Time Warner. Other than Comcast, most of our conversations right now are productive. I'm not a fortuneteller. I don't know if we will get the deal done in time. But we are having what I would consider to be productive conversations.

rastula Asks:
As you may know, in the New York area, Comcast recently launched Comcast Sportsnet New York, which is essentially the Mets' network and quite similiar to YES, the Yankees' network. Did the Big Ten explore launching a network in conjunction with Comcast rather than with Fox to avoid some of these difficult negotiations with cable providers? I'm not sure that I need to point out that the Comcast sports channels are in the basic tier and this would have gotten the BTN in millions of homes, painlessly, by selecting a different partner.

Mark Silverman Answers:
I believe that I have read that the conference, before it partnered with Fox — and that was before I came on board — did explore conversations with Comcast.

PrideoftheLion31 Asks:
What in the world makes you think the BTN will be successful where the NFL Network was not? If cable companies refuse to carry the NFL Network at an average cost of 80 cents per household, why do you believe they will give in to the Big Ten Network at $1.10?

Mark Silverman Answers:
But I think there's two key things here that a lot of people misunderstand. The NFL Network asked for 75 cents a home for 90 million homes. We're asking about a buck for 18 million homes (in the Big Ten's eight states) and about a dime in 72 million homes (outside of those states). Our price is about 30 cents compared to the NFL Network's 75 cents on a 90-million home basis. That's number one. And then number two, we have the 400 events and we're going to have probably 70 Penn State games across different sports, including over 20 football and basketball games. And the NFL Network had eight games (last season) — eight regular-season games and their exhibition. I believe the amount of content we have and the relevance to Big Ten fans in the markets creates a different level of product than what the NFL Network is.

PorterandHastings Asks:
With the additions of Derrick Walker, Mike Tomczak and Butler By'not'e to your broadcast team, can we assume that the Big Ten Network will continue the Big Ten tradition of being UM/OSU-centric?

Mark Silverman Answers:
We didn't hear that when Howard Griffith (Illinois grad), Jerry DiNardo (former Indiana coach) and Dave Revsine (Northwestern grad) were (announced as) our studio hosts. It's just funny how now that's coming up. Glen Mason is also announcing and has the Minnesota tie. I think we're going to represent all of the schools in the Big Ten in an appropriate way. And if you look at our announcing team, I think the vast majority of schools are represented. As we complete all of the sports commentators, we're going to do the best we can to represent all of the schools.

underscoreTom Asks:
I'd like to know if you truly expected to get all the big name cable companies on board before the season, or had you factored in some growing pains the first year or two before you reached your mass market?

Mark Silverman Answers:
We know launching a network is not easy and that some operators will be more willing to carry the network than others. And others will like to make a point of keeping us waiting until after we launch to get carrying the network. So I want to say it's not a surprise as to where we are now.

shoxx Asks:
Given that Comcast and other networks may not have deals in place by the first game of the season, have you examined your options to deliver the Big Ten Network content via the Internet with streaming video support, perhaps as a pay-per-view subscription?

Mark Silverman Answers:
We've looked into it. Unfortunately, we're going to be somewhat hampered out of the gate due to our existing affiliate deals. So we're going to look to stream games when we can, but I don't anticipate us doing that on the first couple of weeks on the season.

PennStateMtnMan Asks:
What is the status of negotiations with Dish Network pertaining to carrying the Big Ten Network?

Mark Silverman Answers:
We are in active negotiations with Dish Network right now.

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