BTN Scores Deals

Big Ten Network went into a hurry-up offense last week, scoring a quartet of distribution deals with key cable operators in the final days leading up to the kickoff of the new college season.

BTN president Mark Silverman said the pacts with Time Warner Cable, Mediacom Communications, Charter Communications and Cox Communications, along with its previous distribution deals, will give the sports service 90% penetration on expanded basic within the conference's eight-state footprint. Through those agreements, BTN in the weeks ahead should reach some 17 million pay TV homes within Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The flood of distribution activity preceded BTN's sophomore-season kickoff, with a slate of six games on Saturday Aug. 30. All four of the operators sat out the service's rookie campaign over positioning and pricing issues. Comcast was also on the sidelines, but the nation's largest operator signed a pact in June that provided for expanded basic within the Big Ten territories and more flexible positioning elsewhere. According to sources familiar with the deal, the monthly subscriber license fee also dropped from BTN's original rate card, in the $1 range, to some 70 cents with Comcast, which launched the channel on Aug. 15.

On Thursday, Mediacom and Cox inked expanded basic deals with BTN, with the latter placing the standard- and high-definition versions of the services before 150,000 of its customers in suburbs west of Cleveland.

For their part, Time Warner Cable and Charter announced that they had reached agreements in principle to carry BTN on expanded basic within the aforementioned territory on Aug. 25 and Aug. 27, respectively. However, as of early afternoon Friday those contracts, which also provide for HD and video-on-demand content, had not been concluded.

Silverman, expressing confidence the final contracts would be signed later in the day Friday, said the parties had already begun installing receivers and testing the service in anticipation of the deals becoming official. Time Warner and Charter officials didn't return calls by press time.

“Our focus is on getting the games this weekend to as many viewers within the conference's eight-state footprint,” said Silverman. “I think the vast majority of those subscribers [with the four new affiliates] are going to be able to see the games.”

To that end, Mediacom officials said that in phase one of its BTN rollout, most of its subscribers in Illinois and Iowa — the Big Ten states where it has the most subscribers — will receive the games at 11 a.m. (CT) and 6 p.m., either on a dedicated BTN channel or on its local-origination Mediacom Connections Channel. The company's Web site,, has a channel locator where subscribers can type in their ZIP code to find game availability.

In the weeks ahead, Silverman said, more emphasis will be placed on rolling BTN to markets outside the conference's eight-state footprint. Moreover, the accessibility of HD and VOD content would be addressed at a later juncture.

Each school has its “own folder” of content, encompassing game footage and highlights, classic games and looks at press conferences and clips of other materials.

“Not everyone holds all those assets. This is important content that we want to utilize in helping our affiliates distribute their advanced services,” said Silverman.

Silverman said the Comcast deal, which also included access to a bevy of highlights and other new media content, was a critical template for getting the “network into some of the other markets.”

He would not discuss deal points for the Time Warner, Mediacom, Charter and Cox agreements, other than to say that some of the Comcast components were in play.