The latest fussin’ and feudin’ between cable companies and upstart TV sports networks is brought to you by Big Ten Network, a joint venture between FOX Cable Networks and the Big Ten Conference. The network is devoted to sports, academics, activities and personalities (but yeah, mostly sports) from the Big Ten’s 11 institutions. It plans to launch Aug. 30 with a schedule that is going to include more than 35 football games, more than 105 men’s basketball games, women’s sports and coaches shows.
Big Ten Network has found carriage on DirecTV and a number of small cable companies, but doesn’t have deals with some of the major cable companies serving areas in the Midwest, where the conference’s fan base lives. Big Ten Network wants to charge cable companies $1.10 per month per subscriber in states with Big Ten schools, and 10 cents per month per subscriber in states without Big Ten schools. It currently won’t allow cable companies to put it on a separately priced digital sports tier (does anybody out there actually get those?). Cable companies don’t want to charge their entire customer base for what they consider a niche network. And so the battle begins.
Big Ten Network launched its “This Is Big Ten Country” campaign this week to angry up the blood of cable subscribers who will be missing out on the channel. NFL Network tried similar tactics to gain carriage on cable, and it didn’t work so well. NFL Network is still without carriage on some of the major cable carriers, and it’s losing leverage with one of the big ones it did have a deal with. The complaints and the migration of customers to satellite systems, which carry NFL Network on their basic packages, weren’t severe enough to make the cable companies cave. If the NFL couldn’t pressure cable companies into carrying its network, the Big Ten sure won’t.
Maybe even more of a concern to Big Ten Network should be this: I’m an alum of a Big Ten school and a fan of its sports teams, and I’m not really convinced that I need the channel. And I’m certain that I don’t want to pay more for it. I’m probably not alone in that.
[Update: Good observations from The M Zone on Big Ten Network as it relates to possible conference expansion.]
[Update 2: A very astute piece from Michigan blogger Hoover Street Rag about the BTN Open House in Ann Arbor.]