Turner’s PlayOn to Stream Nine Big Ten Basketball Games

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Turner Sports’ PlayOn Sports Webcasting division signed a deal to stream nine Big Ten Conference men’s basketball games online this season, in what PlayOn senior vice president and general manager Phil Sharpe termed a “trial.” 

Each of the nine non-conference games will be available for free at BigTenNetwork.com, both live and on-demand. The games will include the Nov. 1 season openers for Iowa and Minnesota.

“It’s kind of on a trial basis,” Sharpe said. “We’re offering [the game broadcasts] free online, to see if it complements what they’re doing with the Big Ten Network.”

Turner launched PlayOn last year with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which offers ACC Select. The ACC site charges for per-event or subscription-based access to around 650 otherwise non-televised events from the conference, like lacrosse games. Turner has since inked similar deals with the Atlantic Sun Conference (A-Sun) and the United Soccer Leagues (USL).

PlayOn’s low-cost video-production model is centered on a kit with four Canon XL2 digital camcorders, a PC-based video-encoding server loaded with Microsoft’s Media Encoder and other software for managing on-site production. The live video is sent over a standard 2-megabit-per-second or faster Internet connection to PlayOn’s server farm for distribution. Each kit includes a little more than $30,000 of equipment, Sharpe said – far less than the cost of a full TV-production truck with a satellite uplink.

The Big Ten wants to see if “they can still do good three- or four-camera production” using PlayOn’s on-site production kits, according to Sharpe.

For now, much of the conference’s real cager action will be on the Big Ten Network, which launched this fall in a joint venture with Fox Cable Networks. BTN will carry 140 regular-season basketball games this season -- including nearly two-thirds of all in-conference match-ups -- with each team having between 15 and 23 of their games televised on the network.

Big Ten Network is available to 30 million homes through deals with DirecTV, EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network, Insight Communications, AT&T U-Verse TV, WideOpenWest, RCN and 150 other cable operators. However, BTN has failed to land carriage with the biggest cable operators, including Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

The nine Big Ten basketball games PlayOn will carry for the 2007-08 season are:

Nov. 1: Mankato State at Minnesota

Nov. 1: Simpson College at Iowa

Nov. 10: Army at Minnesota

Nov. 12:  St. Francis at Penn State

Nov. 20: Lipscomb at Purdue

Dec. 1: Savannah State at Northwestern

Dec. 3: Arkansas State at Northwestern

Dec. 15: Denver at Penn State

Jan. 30: Texas-Pan American at Northwestern

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