Fox Warns The Big Ten Deal With Comcast is Expiring

With the kickoff of college football season about a month away, Fox and Comcast are about to butt heads again, this time about a potential blackout of the Big Ten Network.

At the conference’s media day in Chicago Tuesday, Mark Silverman, president of Fox Sports National Networks and the Big Ten Network said BTN’s agreement is expiring soon, along with the agreement to carry the Big Ten football games on Fox Sports 1.

“I am letting everyone know this in order to alert Comcast subscribers of the real possibility that they may lose BTN and Big Ten football games on FS1 this season,” Silverman said.

Silverman said that BTN and FS1 made proposals to Comcast in February, but Comcast hasn’t made a “substantive response.”

BTN and FS1 will have 22 of the first 24 games for the 10 schools located in Comcast markets. Comcast subscribers who want to watch the Big Ten games will be able to find them on other cable, satellite and digital programming services, he noted.

Silverman said fans can check to check on the progress of negotiations and to tell Comcast that they want the network. 

An ad campaign is also in the works.

“Comcast’s agreements with content providers, like the Big Ten Network, expire from time to time," the cable company said in a statement. "We are communicating with the Big Ten Network about continuing to carry it after August 31 and look forward to productive negotiations.”

Since April, Comcast has dropped BTN in states where the conference does not have a school. When the carriage agreement expires, the network could go dark in states including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Fox says millions of fans in 29 states lost access to BTN.

There have been a number of conflicts between Comcast and 21st Century Fox. Since last year, Fox honcho Rupert Murdoch has rejected offers from Comcast to buy Fox assets including its entertainment cable networks and its TV and movie studios. Murdoch agreed to sell those assets to the Walt Disney Co. instead, saying he prefers Disney’s stock to Comcast’s.

Comcast last week dropped out of the bidding for the Fox assets, but remains in a bidding war with Disney over European satellite broadcaster Sky, in which Fox hold a 39% stake.

Related: Comcast Raises Offer for Sky, Topping New Fox Bid

The two companies also pitched a long battle over the YES Network, the regionals sports channel that carries the Yankees and the Brooklyn Nets in the New York metropolitan area.

Comcast dropped the network in November 2015, blacking out 900,000 households. In January the two sides reached an agreement on carriage of several channels including YES, but YES wasn’t restored until March 31.

The fight over YES was one reason Murdoch was unwilling to do business with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

When BTN originally launched in 2007, Comcast was a holdout, hamstringing the network in states served by Comcast where the conference has schools.

Related: Roberts: Comcast is The 'Right Buyer' For Fox

Comcast reached an agreement to carry BTN in June 2008 and launched it in time for the 2008 college football season in states where the Big Ten had schools. Outside of the Big Ten states that Comcast serves, Comcast has the option to provide Big Ten Network programming on any level of service, Comcast said..

BTN charges cable operators a different sub fee in states where the Big Ten has school. According to research company Kagan, BTN gets more than $1.30 per month from cable operators for in-market subscribers, but less than a dime for out-of-market subscribers.

With an average subscriber fee of 56 cents a subscriber and 51.3 million subscribers, Big Ten Network generates $334 million in distribution fees, which represents the bulk of BTN’s revenues.

Fox says it is seeking marketplace terms from Comcast to provide access to BTN and the Big Ten football and basketball games that will be on FS1.

FS1 football games will including Michigan vs Nebraska on Sept. 22.

Fox notes that all of the other major carriers provide BTN to its subscribers and that Comcast carries college networks including the SEC Network and the Pac 12 Network.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.