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Fox Blocking Kickoff, Says Mediacom

Mediacom is the latest player jumping into the PR pile-up surrounding The Big Ten Network (BTN).

Mediacom, the nation’s eighth largest cable operator, is asserting that Fox Cable Networks is refusing to air Thursday night’s season opener between Big 12 team Iowa State and Kent State, as it did in 2006, because it competes with the launch of BTN tonight at 8PM. The cable company says Fox’s refusal to air the game is in response to Mediacom’s snubbing BTN in negotiations and called the action “deplorable” and “anti-competitive.”

 Mediacom is one of several larger cable operators BTN has been negotiating distribution with ahead of launch, but maintains it will not accept the carriage terms the network is demanding.

 “Mediacom is ready and willing to launch the Big Ten Network,” said Ed Pardini, SVP of Mediacom’s North Central Division, in a statement, “However, by demanding widespread distribution in Mediacom cable systems throughout Iowa and in other states and charging astronomical fees for a start-up, the Big Ten Network is essentially forcing all of our customers to subsidize the athletic budgets of the University of Iowa and other Big Ten schools, while fattening the bottom line of Fox, which owns 49% of the Big Ten Network.”

 Fox responded in a statement calling Mediacom’s claims “laughable,” noting that the network made telecast rights to the game available to at least two other national sports networks, neither of which chose to produce it.

 “[Fox Sports Networks] has been fortunate to partner with the Big 12 Conference for roughly 15 years, and helped Iowa State to its rightful share of approximately $200 million,” the network’s statement said. Fox further noted that Iowa State has permission from FSN to stream the game live over the internet. That, the network contends, “obviously denies Mediacom what it's really seeking -- the right to be the exclusive distributor of the game at the expense of every other broadcast, cable and satellite provider in Iowa.”

 BTN has had some contentious negotiations with cable operators. Earlier this week the network and Comcast launched volleys over terms of carriage of BTN. Comcast says it wants to place the new network on a sports tier to save its basic subscribers any addition fees associated with the network. BTN contends it is a willing negotiator on fees but insists on being carried on an expanded basic tier available to a wider number of subscribers.

  “We’re willing to negotiate on everything but the basic tier,” Fox National Cable Sports Networks president Bob Thompson has said.

 BTN has distribution in place with approximately 100 cable systems, as well as DirecTV and AT&T’s U-verse. On Wednesday, Insight Communications signed on to carry BTN on its Classic service in Columbus, Ohio (home of the Ohio State Buckeyes), and Evansville, Ind., and on its Digital 2.0 service in its Kentucky systems.