Big Ten Net Chief: Expansion “Very Strong Possibility”

On May 1 the Big Ten Network
will cover its biggest non-sporting event since the network launched in 2007,
when President Obama speaks at the University of Michigan commencement at the The Big House, Michigan
Stadium in Ann Arbor,
Mich.  B&C caught up with network president
Mark Silverman to discuss how coverage of the event could help draw in viewers
who aren't pigskin or hardwood crazy. 

Silverman also discussed how
the prospective expansion of the NCAA's biggest money-making conference--with
Notre Dame, Texas, Nebraska and Missouri all being bandied about as possible
additions to the Big Ten--would effect his network.  An edited transcript

Q: Obviously you've heard
about the possibility of the Big Ten expanding, maybe adding a school like Notre
Dame to the conference.  Do you
expect some kind of expansion to happen?

MS: I think the official
word from the conference is they're exploring expansion.  I don't think
anyone anticipates any new teams or games this year.  The conference is
very serious about examining expansion and I think there is a very strong
possibility that they do elect to expand.

Q: Assuming it does happen
at some point, what would be the implications of expansion for your

MS: Any additional
universities that get added to the Big Ten provide the network [the opportunity]
to grow its coverage, add more viewers, add more subs.  I look at any
potential expansion for the conference as having a positive impact on the
network.  We really have to see how
expansion plays out.  There's a very different answer depending on if it's
one school or three or five.  It's really premature to think about how it
would impact our production or staffing needs or anything like

Q: Let's talk about another
kind of expansion.  The NCAA seems
to be seriously considering expanding the men's basketball tournament to 96
teams.  Do you expect that to

MS: I'm not very familiar
with the inner-workings at the NCAA so it's hard for me to comment on whether
it's likely or not.  It seems like that looks like a direction that the
NCAA is heading. 

Q: How would that impact the
network?  Is there a concern that a
longer tournament could devalue some of the regular season content you

MS: We cover our schools
that are in our tournament.  We had
a live show every night [during this year's tourney].  If there are more
Big Ten teams in there, the network will cover more teams in a more in-depth
way.  It remains to be seen if there's any impact on the regular season or
not, I think we just need to see how it all plays out.

Q: How did the decision to
cover President Obama's speech at the U of Michigan commencement come about?

MS: A couple of months ago
or so we had heard that there was a possibility of this happening.  As soon
as we heard about that here we all realized that it could be a really important
event for the network to be able to cover.  We've spent a lot of time the
last couple of years building up our Campus Showcase project to show that the
Big Ten is about a lot more than just athletics.  We've grown that considerably over the
last few years and now have dedicated time blocks for the school to demonstrate
these kinds of non-sports programming.  We started getting in contact with
U of Michigan and made a concerted effort to have this be a premiere event in
our Campus Showcase lineup.

Q: What can you tell us
about the various production elements that will comprise the broadcast of the
commencement from a logistical standpoint?

MS: The interesting anecdote
is it's kind of similar to covering a football game.  It's at the "Big
House," Michigan Stadium.  We have
one of our big producers who does our football games covering the event. 
It will be much more than one camera sitting there taping this.  It will be multiple cameras showing
different angles at the Big House.  We're pursuing an interview with the
President.  [We will have an]
interview with Michigan's President Mary Sue Coleman. 
It's similar to a Michigan football game in terms of excitement
and the amount of attention that we think the event is going to

Q: Is this an event that
will be able to propel more of your Campus Showcase

MS: I look at this as really
being an opportunity for the network to show the kind of exposure we can bring
to universities beyond a sporting standpoint.  We're going to work with all
the universities to improve and increase our non-sports programming.  This
is a catalyst of what we intend to be more of a focus on finding these kinds of
events and types of programming that will be of more interest to

Q: Strategically, is it a
way to introduce the network to new viewers or to get core Big Ten fans who
already tune in interested in different kinds of

MS: I think it's a little of
both.  If you're a Big Ten sports fan, you typically have gone to a Big Ten
school and anything that the conference has going on has a heightened
importance.  It attracts our true audience that are sports fans just in a
different mold and for non-sports fans, it's a chance to reach a different type
of audience than we normally would.

Q: From the original
programming side, you're in production on Big Ten Icons.  What can we expect from that

MS: [It's the] biggest
programming initiative in our history. 
[Former ABC sportscaster] Keith Jackson is hosting a show counting down
the top 50 icons in conference history beginning this fall and ending [in
conjunction] with the basketball tournament in March.  Numbers 50-21 will
be launched online and have mini-promos on our linear network.  Numbers
20-1 are linear episodes counting down each week.  We're looking for those
student-athletes who made an impact that's lasting far beyond their collegiate
careers.  Combination of their stats, legacies, what they've left behind in
terms of student athletes and the overall impact they have had on their sport,
school and conference.  A combination of Big 10 officials, network
officials and talent and media members from the region gave us