Big Ten Network sets August 30 launch


Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman announced yesterday that the new cable network will go live on Thursday, August 30th, two days before the kick-off of the 2007 Big Ten college football season. The first live game coverage will be Saturday, September 1st, with regional coverage of Appalachian State at Michigan; Youngstown State visiting BCS championship runner-up Ohio State; Florida International at Penn State; and Northeastern University at Northwestern. In prime time, the network will air Bowling Green at Minnesota and Indiana State at Indiana.

Silverman says the new net has gotten distribution commitments from more than 75 local cable systems in eight states where some of the 11 schools in the Big Ten are located. Some of the local systems planning to carry Big Ten Network as part of their expanded basic level of service include Altatec Alta Municipal Utility, Cedar Falls Utilities, Celect Communications, Consolidated Communications Network Services, City of Wadsworth Cable TV, Dixon Telephone Company, Grundy Center Municipal, Harlan Municipal Utilities, Hiawatha Broadband, Horizon Telecom, Independence Communications, Iowa Network Services, Mid-Century Communications, Moultrie Telecommunications, Muscatine Power & Water, Oneida Cablevision, Spencer Municipal Utilities, The Community Agency and USA Communications. In addition, Big Ten Network has national distribution agreements with DirectTV and the new AT&T U-verse service, as well as a major regional agreement with Buckeye Cable.

"With these commitments, we're well on our way toward ensuring that roughly half the subscribers to smaller cable systems across the Midwest have better access to their favorite Big Ten schools and teams than anytime in history. As we continue discussions with the largest national cable system operators, we're pleased to know that so many of these Midwestern communities will have the network available to them on expanded basic," Silverman said.

SmartMedia observation: Getting the major MSOs to sign up for yet another sports network is proving to be a tough sell. Like the NFL Network, the Big Ten Network is asking a pretty good buck for carriage, but the MSOs are questioning just how many sports networks subscribers are willing to pay for. According to the New York Times, the Big Ten Net is seeking a staggering 1.10 per subscriber in the eight states where conference schools are located and 10 cents elsewhere. Giant MSO Comcast has publicly questioned the value of the Big Ten network, calling it a "niche sports channel" in a recent press release and suggesting that it will fill out its schedule with "second and third-tier sporting events."