Friday, August 24, 2007

Comcast and Big Ten Network a No-Go

Those Michigan fans who hoped to watch the Wolverines dismantle the App. State Mountaineers are going to be faced with a problem they haven't had to deal with in decades. Mainly finding the Michigan game on TV! The cable provider giant Comcast, and smaller cable company WOW! Have told customers that a deal will not be reached in time for this weekend's games. Both Michigan and Ohio State debut on The Big Ten Network, so the conference's two biggest schools will be seen by thousands and not millions. Contract talks will continue as the season goes along but it doesn't look good for The Big Ten Network (BTN).

The problem is that the Big Ten wants the BTN to be on basic cable where everyone who subscribes to cable will have the channel available to them. This makes sense for the Big Ten as it would allow the most exposure they could get. But the cable companies say that if the BTN were added to basic cable it would increase everyone's cable bill by $1.10. Now for Big Ten football fans $1.10 seems like nothing and they would willingly pay up to watch their favorite schools battle it out on Saturdays. However, think of the families who are not sports fans, who do not follow the Big Ten, who couldn't care less that fight songs are played loudly on Saturdays? Why should they be forced to pay a higher cable bill for a channel they don't want and will never watch? That's Comcast's and other cable companies' argument.

The Cable companies want to put the BTN on their premium sports tier, in which those customers who want the BTN can pay extra for the channel, thus keeping everyone else's cable bill the same. However, the Big Ten hates this idea as it limits the viewer-ship of their station to strictly Big Ten fans, and lower their profits.

Growing up in Michigan since the age of 4 I have grown up on Michigan and Big Ten football. But even so, when the BTN was announced last year I saw it for what it was, another way for the Big Ten Conference to make extra money. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany can say that the station is really meant to show off the conference's many non-revenue sports, but we can all see through that smoke screen. This is just another way for the Big Ten to pad its pocket a little bit more.

In any event the network is going to launch this Thursday, August 30th with or without Comcast and other cable companies. Now I'm not a business major here at UM, but it seems to me like the Big Ten really dropped the ball with this one. The BTN is geared to Big Ten fans, and so 99% of Big Ten fans live in the Midwest and the eight states that make up the conference. Well Comcast happens to be the main cable provider in the Midwest, in over 8 million homes. Now, it would seem to me that if you are launching a new TV station you would bend over backwards to get on the main cable provider for the region where the vast majority of your fans reside. Instead, the BTN went nose to nose with Comcast, who held are the cards, and Comcast didn't fold.

Currently, only DirectTV has signed on with the Big Ten, while other smaller cable companies such as Time Warner are still talking with the BTN. The BTN had hoped that Big Ten fans would put pressure on Comcast and others to have them cave and put the BTN on the basic cable tier. However, the Big Ten overestimated their fans desires to pay extra to watch Michigan pound App. State, or Ohio State roll over Youngstown State.

This is turning out to be a disaster for the Big Ten and Jim Delany. Without Comcast or any other cable network the BTN won't last a season.

For now Michigan and Ohio State fans will have to get a ticket to the game, or head back in time and listen to the games on the radio.

-Tony Bolton, WCBN Sports Director

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