Not-So-Big Ten Network Launch

By R. Thomas Umstead , |

The Big Ten Network is two weeks away from hiking the ball. But as of now, very few cable subscribers will be able to watch its live football telecasts.

The network is in negotiations with cable operators including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Mediacom Communications and Charter Communications to gain distribution in the conference’s footprints of seven Midwestern states and Pennsylvania, according to a statement from Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman.

So far, a majority of its 17 million total subscribers come from satellite provider DirecTV. Cable operators thus far are not catching passes from the network.

Executives from Comcast and Time Warner in particular said the network’s insistence on having its programming carried on the basic digital tier, as well as its reported license fee of $1.10 per subscriber per month, block any deal for distribution.

Comcast believes the network should be distributed on a $5-per-subscriber, per-month sports tier, alongside NFL Network, NBA TV, CSTV and Fox Soccer Channel.

“We think the best and fairest way to bring Big Ten content to our customers is to make it available on a sports tier,” said John Demming, director of corporate communications for Comcast. “That way, people can choose to pay for it and we won’t be burdening customers who aren’t interested in the programming with undue costs.”

Charter media-relations manager Anita Lamont also confirmed that the network has an “ongoing dialogue” with the Big Ten Network to launch the service in Big Ten hotbed states Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The cable provider hopes to work out a deal, she said, but she would not comment further.

With or without the top cable operators, The Big Ten Network will launch Aug. 30. The network, co-owned by Fox Cable Networks and the 11-school Big Ten Conference, will begin its live coverage a day later of football games, including Appalachian State against Michigan, Youngstown against Ohio State and Florida International against Penn State.

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