Big Ten Network completed its second big carriage deal within a week, adding EchoStar Communications Corp. to its distribution roster last Thursday.
The pact, terms of which were not disclosed, put the Big Ten Network, which gained national prominence with its coverage of Appalachian State's monumental upset of Michigan on Sept 1, on one of Dish Network's most widely distributed programming packages before the second week of the college-football season.
The Dish deal came after the service, co-owned by the conference's 11 member schools and Fox National Cable Sports Networks, reached an accord Aug. 29 for some 640,000 Insight Communications customers, including subscribers in Columbus, Ohio, home to the Ohio State Buckeyes.
At press time, Fox and Mediacom Communications were continuing to negotiate about distribution. Some observers had expected the parties to reach an accord last week, prior to BTN's coverage of the Iowa Hawkeyes-Syracuse Orange game Saturday night Sept. 8. Mediacom counts some 500,000 subscribers in Iowa.
The EchoStar deal is layered, making BTN available to Dish's America's Top 100 package and higher on channel 439.
Dish customers throughout the nation will also have the opportunity to preview the network until early 2008, likely until the completion of the college basketball season. At that point in the first quarter, BTN will migrate to the America's Top 100 Plus service within the eight states that are home to Big Ten schools.
Sources familiar with the deal say BTN then will be made available on a sports or another tier to those subscribers outside of the conference's eight-state territory.
America's Top 100 package reaches an estimated 12 million homes nationally, including almost 3 million within the Big Ten states' footprint, according to sources. Industry estimates peg the America's Top 100 Plus customer presence at just under 2 million in the eight-state territory. The deal is said to fall in line with the $1 monthly subscriber fee for customers within the BTN member footprint and 10 cents for customers outside of that territory.
In addition to Dish and Insight, BTN has deals with DirecTV, AT&T's U-Verse TV and 120 smaller Midwest cable operators and municipal providers
However, it has been unable to reach deals with Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, both of which have balked at BTN's license-fee terms and expanded-basic positioning within the core Big Ten markets.
COMCAST'S STILL IN PLAY
Tony Vinciquerra, Fox Networks Group president and CEO, said there are “lots of conversations going around” with cable operators, not named Comcast. “There are conversations with [Comcast] about general things, but we're not addressing that.”
Vinciquerra said there had been continuing discussions with Mediacom, which had submitted several proposals to Fox on Wednesday, said vice president of legal affairs Tom Larsen. “The ball is in their court,” Larsen said.
Vinciquerra said the double- and high-single-digit ratings BTN's Michigan/ Appalachian State and Ohio State/Youngstown State games drew in Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis and Cleveland/Akron proved the network's appeal.
He expects having deals with “most” cable operators by year's end. Noting that while football is “a big gun,” BTN's 140 college hoops games may be even more attractive programming, with each school scheduled to appear about 20 times.
Last Saturday, Dish Network was scheduled to broadcast two BTN games in high-definition on channel 9467: Akron at Ohio State (noon ET) and Syracuse at Iowa (8 p.m ET). The No. 2 DBS provider will officially launch the HD simulcast of the BTN the following week.