Big Ten Fights for Comcast Carriage

 Big Ten Conference commissioner James Delany isn’t afraid of running the ball at Comcast.

Delaney said Thursday that Big Ten Network -- which will offer live sports events from such conference teams as Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois -- will remain steadfast in its desire to seek basic distribution carriage from Comcast and other cable MSOs, and it could go on the offensive as early as Aug.1 to encourage millions of Big Ten alumni to switch to DirecTV if it cannot come to terms with cable operators.

Delaney told reporters that the Big Ten- and Fox Sports-owned network has basic-cable carriage deals with about 40 unnamed cable operators to go along with its deals with Buckeye CableSystem and DirecTV.

But he added that the network, which has yet to announce a launch date, hasn’t come to terms with Comcast, which represents 5.7 million subscribers in five of the conference’s eight-state, 18.5 million-subscriber footprint. Comcast wants to place the network -- which is proposing a $1.10-per-subscriber licensing fee within Big Ten markets -- on a sports tier.

But Delany said the network -- which is only charging 10 cents per subscriber for the rest of the country -- would only cost Comcast an average of 30 cents across Comcast’s total digital subscriber base -- one-tenth of the more than $3 the MSO pays ESPN.

He also defended the network’s demand for basic carriage, saying that Comcast’s conference-owned network, The Mtn. – Mountain West Sports Network, is carried on basic in Comcast’s Salt Lake City system. “We’re wedded to basic cable in our region,” Delaney said. “I think there’s intense interest in this product.”

While Delaney said he “respects” Comcast, he called “disparaging” comments made in a New York Times article by Comcast executive vice president David Cohen describing Big Ten Network’s programming as “second-tier” games compared with those offered by ESPN and the broadcast networks.

Delaney also said if the Big Ten hasn’t secured deals with the major cable players in the Big Ten markets by Aug. 1, the network may go on the offensive and encourage Big Ten alumni and conference fans to switch to DirecTV.

In a letter dated Thursday night to Delaney, Cohen said Comcast would like to make the Big Ten Network available to its customers "in a fair way that does not burden customers with undue cost."

Cohen also did not back away from his Times comments, saying that the most attractive Big Ten programming is being made available first to ABC and ESPN.

"We are not criticizing the Big Ten for generating a business dispute between the conference and Fox (who are interested in creating a billion-dollar asset for themselves), on the one hand, and Comcast (which is seeking to protect the interests of millions of cable-television customers who do not wish to pay for expensive, niche programming that they will never watch)," he added.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.