Editorial: The Big Ten Network Following Dangerous Path
by Max - 07/20/2007
With our main office being located in the Midwest we are located right in the heart of Big Ten Country. This is the conference that has allowed our company to prosper since 1971 and hopefully will continue to do so for another 36 years into the future. Most of us in the main office are die hard Wisconsin Badgers fans and for the past decade have enjoyed watching games on ESPN, ESPN 2, ABC, CBS, FSN, or syndication. But starting this year that may all change with the launch of the Big Ten Network, schedule to debut on Aug. 30. The following will examine the new network from all 360 degrees.
Despite what other conferences may say, the Big Ten is the most popular conference for the major men's sports. The SEC is a close second, but the longevity of the Big Ten allows them to remain on top. For the last decade, pretty much every Big Ten football game would be on TV, with ABC getting the main game, then both ESPN channels getting their pick, and finally the last remaining game would be available through syndication with local affiliates being able to pick up that game. With this much popularity, it's easy to see what the heads of the Big Ten Conference thought it would be very profitable to gain control of their programming. After all, it's their conference that generates all this money for the networks. The conference also had the seed planted in their heads from the professionals sports leagues that have created the NFL Network, NBA.tv and the soon to launch MLB Network. The only college conference to have its own network in the Mountain West Conference, as games are shown on Mountain, a channel devoted solely to sports of the Mountain West.
The channels have developed resumes on how to launch their channel with two key components: how to get the most money possible to the largest demographic available. Quite frankly, only one of the before mentioned networks has done this successfully. That is the MLB Network, which has not even launched but will be on basic cable when it's created for the 2009 season. MLB did a splendid job in holding viewers hostage of the popular MLB Extra Innings until their cable companies agreed to place the MLB Network on basic cable. Both sides looked like they would not budge, but one by one cable companies relented and because of that the MLB Network will open with the largest audience ever for a cable channel.
The NFL Network took a different approach but wanted the same result of being placed on basic cable. They did have something to offer as well in NFL Sunday Ticket, but the former commissioner choose to keep that exclusive to Direct TV, a place that is has been for its entire existence. That being said, football is much more popular then baseball and the stubborn league thought they could just walk right in and have the cable companies begging them for the channel. That did not happen and as it stands now, many of the major cable companies like Cablevision, Charter Communications, Brighthouse Networks, Mediacom Communications and Suddenlink Communications still do not offer the channel. Most of these companies would accept putting the channel on a sports tier available only to digital cable subscribers, but the NFL has shot down that idea, despite originally agreeing to that. What should be known is that NBA.tv has agreed to this and many digital cable subscribers can view the channel.
That brings us to the Big Ten Network that will begin broadcasting live events in late August, just before the football season kicks off. As of this writing, it appears that they will be following a similar path like the NFL did and trying to play hardball with the cable companies. In fact, it has been reported that they will be charging 50 percent more then NFL Network wanted for cable companies within the eight states where Big Ten teams play. Right now, only Direct TV has agreed to terms with the Network, although a few small cable companies have signed on in remote locations. It's very possible that the college football season could open with only satellite viewers being able to watch their local team's games.
One might assume that the Big Ten can hold ESPN Gameplan over the cable companies, but that is not the case, as ESPN owns this package and Big Ten Games will no longer appear on gameplan. The Network plans to start most Saturday games at the traditional timeslot of 12 p.m. EST and make the local game available on basic cable and the other games available on upper channels. What is hurting the network is the many experts believe this will showcase nothing more then third tier games because ABC, ESPN and ESPN 2 will still showcase the top three games each weekend. Comcast echoed similar statements causing an uproar from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. The pressure is on him to get a deal done with the majors, or expect an uproar of fans calling his office, as they will not be able to watch their local teams games.
Is this a network full of third tier games? Well, it is hard to argue that it isn't when looking at the first weekend's slate of games.
Saturday, Sept. 1
Appalachian State at Michigan, Noon EDT/11 a.m. CDT
Youngstown State at Ohio State, Noon EDT/11 a.m. CDT
Florida International at Penn State, Noon EDT/11 a.m. CDT
Northeastern at Northwestern, Noon EDT/11 a.m. CDT
Bowling Green at Minnesota, 8 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. CDT
Indiana State at Indiana, 8 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. CDT
Do any of these games look appealing or competitive to you? The problem is that these new networks all believe that they are ESPN and therefore can charge similar prices. It is hard for a cable company to pay over $1 per customer for channels that just show live games and do not have much other programming available through the week. ESPN is able to get by with the numerous sports talk shows and the foundation of the network is still SportsCenter, the nightly sports wrap-up show. Memo to the Big Ten Network and NFL Network: you are not ESPN, so stop trying to charge the cable companies' similar subscription fees.
What is worse and something the NFL never thought would have occurred is that most customers have sided with the cable companies in their stalemate. They realize that showing eight live games each season is no justification for having to pay outrageous fees for a channel that nobody cares about five months out of the year. Even more, the cable companies would agree to put the network on a sports tier so the people that want to pay for it can and the people that do not want to pay for it will not have to.
So as the college football season approaches, many of us in Wisconsin sit and wait, wondering if we will be able to watch the Badgers on Serpt.15 play football against the powerhouse from South Carolina called the Citadel. As we all know, deals are driven by deadlines, so don't expect much to happen until the last weekend of August. I still believe the cable companies hold all the power if they stay united and don't one by one break the picket lines like they did with MLB. Broadcasting solely on Direct TV will not be enough for the Big Ten Network to make it and eventually they will concede and lower their subscription fees to other similar cable networks. Some will leave and sign-up for the dish, but the majority will not, although this writer did when Dish Network did not renew MLB Extra Innings. Eventually this Network will need cable to survive and a deal will get done, but not before everyone flexes their muscles by putting out stupid statements into the media like Commissioner Jim Delaney has already done.
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