Time Warner Cable Tackles Big Ten Network Pact

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Time Warner Cable is apparently going to be in the Big Ten Network’s distribution huddle.

After sitting out the rookie first season, the nation’s No. 2 cable operator has reached an agreement in principle to carry the sports service on expanded basic. The pact should enable Time Warner Cable subscribers, notably Buckeye fans in Ohio and Badgers fans in Wisconsin, to watch the kickoff of the Big Ten football season on Aug. 30.

BTN is owned by the 11-member schools and Fox National Cable Sports Networks.

The parties issued the following statement Monday night: “Time Warner Cable and the Big Ten Network announced today that they have reached an agreement-in-principle on terms of carriage for the Big Ten Network and its high-definition and video-on-demand programming on Time Warner Cable's lineups throughout the Big Ten territory, including Ohio and Wisconsin. The pending agreement will ensure that Time Warner Cable's customers across these Big Ten states will have access to this Saturday's Big Ten college football season openers and all future Big Ten Network programming on an expanded basic level of service.”

News of the agreement in principle came the same day that ESPN and the Southeastern Conference announced an expansive 15-year TV and digital rights contract. The SEC had been contemplating launching its own service before electing to sign the more traditional rights deal, albeit the longest pact in the history of the total sports network. Earlier this month, the SEC also signed a new 15-year deal with CBS Sports.

Deal terms were not disclosed. However, sources familiar with the agreement say the pact is akin to the one signed by Comcast earlier this summer that allows for the service to be migrated to a digital service next spring. Comcast also can position BTN on any package beyond the conference’s territory.

In addition to Ohio and Wisconsin, Time Warner also operates systems in the Big Ten states of Illinois and Indiana.

BTN and Time Warner Cable officials wouldn’t comment beyond the announcement.

The aggreement in principle also means that Bright House Networks, which piggybacks on Time Warner Cable's programming deals, will carry BTN on its systems serving 120,000 customers in central Indiana.

"We're awaiting approved language from our corporate office in Tampa from the ongoing negotiations and hope to have an official announcement later this week," said Buz Nesbit, president of BHN Indiana, in a statement. "Bright House Networks is prepared to deliver all of the Indiana University and Purdue University football and basketball action that the Big Ten Network carries to our Indiana customers at a moment's notice in anticipation of any official, detailed announcement later this week." 

Sources also said a BTN carriage contract with Mediacom “for all intents and purposes is done.” MCN reported last Friday that those parties were nearing the completion of a pact that would also get the network in front of the operator’s subscribers in Illinois and Iowa, where it’s the predominant cable provider.

Should BTN finalize agreements with Time Warner and Mediacom that would leave Charter as the main holdout for the service. Officials from the St. Louis-headquartered operator didn’t immediately return calls.