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Stadium and Main: I already hate the Big Ten Network

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I already hate the Big Ten Network

I came across some disturbing words from the President of the Big Ten Network, Mark Silverman. He was interviewed by Iowa’s website, and he mentioned an example regarding the television coverage of an Iowa game that is (hypothetically) scheduled to be on the Big Ten Network (BTN). Since I’ll use this example throughout the remainder of this post, please read it first, and then see if you agree with my explanation (which could be mistaken, since the quote is a bit confusing, no?):
“As we go forward, every game played in [a Big Ten team’s home stadium] will be owned if you will by ESPN/ABC or the BTN. If that game is aired as a part of the BTN, what I am pledging we will do, is that we will have one BTN game of the week. In addition to those games, we will have a regionalization. Where we can put the Iowa game on in Iowa. If you are not in Iowa, and the game of the week is say, Ohio State-Northwestern, and that is on the BTN, what we are offering to Direct TV, Comcast, Time Warner, Mediacom and everyone, are all of these games. So the BTN primary feed will be the game of the week, but in addition to that, we are making these games available as a part of carrying the network. So the cable provider or satellite operator will have the chance to air all of the games. So there will be a crawl on the main game, saying if you want to view another game, go to this channel.” (emphasis mine)
Umm… OK? So, if OSU-NU is the BTN “game of the week,” that is going to be on the Big Ten Network’s “primary feed” (the BTN channel itself). But if a game like, say, Indiana at Iowa is also being televised by the Big Ten Network at the same time, fans in Iowa (and Indiana, I’m assuming) will also get that game on another, separate channel (or maybe vice versa, the wording is weird). Anyway, fans will get a “crawl” on the bottom of the screen on the BTN, which is just a fancy way of saying that there will be text telling them “Tune to channel X for Indiana at Iowa (or OSU-NU, or whatever)” Thoughts:

- Silverman just confirmed what I had feared. Since the Big Ten Network will have one game of the week, it is my belief that many other games “owned” by the BTN and airing at the same time as the game of the week will be unavailable to fans who happen to live “out of state” or “out of area.” In the example above, Iowa and Indiana fans living in those states will get to see both OSU-NU and Indiana-Iowa. Cool. But outside of those areas? I predict that those folks will only get the game of the week (OSU-NU). As it is restated in a different article, “Silverman said the Big Ten Network will produce a nightly wrap-up show, have the ability to televise multiple games in one time slot and feature school-produced programming” (emphasis mine). The key word here is “ability.” Yes, the BTN will be able to televise many games at once, primarily because they will have lots of cameras and satellites and fancy things like that. But ability isn’t going to cut it, and here’s why: I don’t think that the BTN is going to convince Comcast, for example, to air Indiana-Iowa on a separate channel in its lineup in NYC, Atlanta, LA, or really anywhere else outside of Indiana and Iowa. How is that going to work, logistically? Does the BTN really think Comcast is eager to add an “open” channel that will be used once a week on Saturday afternoons (they might be that delusional, seeing that they want 57% more per subscriber than the NFL gets!)? Is the Big Ten Network going to make deals with cable/satellite companies to preempt programming on already-existing channels (public access, local TV channels, etc.)? I guess it’s possible, but why would a cable/satellite operator outside of the Midwest want to deal with that headache (the administrative costs involved, the angry calls from fans when they mess up, etc.)? I don’t think it’s going to happen.

That’s why I think out of area fans are screwed. The “smaller” programs are going to be hurt the most because the “bigger” programs will likely have a stranglehold on game of the week designations. And the BTN will shrug off any complaints from out of area fans by saying “your cable or satellite provider has the chance (or had the chance) to air all of the games. They chose not to for reasons beyond our control. Don’t blame us, talk to them.”

- This is why the old ESPN GamePlan setup was arguably preferable to the new Big Ten Network setup. In the past, you could see every Big Ten game if you had GamePlan. But now, “regionalized” games on the Big Ten Network will NOT be available on GamePlan (no Big Ten "home" games will. I repeat – No games with a Big Ten "home" team will be on GamePlan, and maybe no Big Ten "road" games, either (“The Gameplan package as you mentioned will no longer have [Big Ten] games,” per Silverman)). In my opinion, this new system could end up being a major disappoinment. Generally, I don’t care much about Wisconsin-Illinois. But if Illinois is down 4 with 2 minutes left, and driving for a game-winning TD, I would like to be able to see that. Now, there will be times when I won’t be able to. Either that, or the Big Ten Network’s primary feed will switch away from its game of the week to show the ending of an exciting game, something that is sure to annoy people one way or another (especially the fans of teams playing in said game of the week). I haven’t even mentioned that while the Big Ten is hyping its HD capabilities, regionalized games (like Indiana-Iowa above) will often not be shown in HD because the game of the week will be occupying the HD channel while the regionalized games will be relegated to standard def. Some people are going to be disappointed.

- A minor (and obvious) nitpick, but the crawl text will be annoying. Just like on ESPN GamePlan when the final quarter of a Michigan game was frequently blessed with “San Diego State at UNLV will be joined on this channel immediately following the conclusion of this game….” It will only affect some viewers and some games, I guess, but it won't just be scrolling in the 4th Quarter - it will be there the whole game (see below for timeslot info).

Other BTN things of note
“The first three weeks [of games] are selected during the summer, then they are done in a six to twelve day advance window.”

“I think most of the games on our network will be the [noon eastern] games. The three primary windows for football games are [noon, 3:30 and 8:00 pm eastern]. Our windows are typically the early window. ABC more often than not will have that [3:30] window, exclusive to them. Then the prime time games, those will be on mostly every week on either ABC/ESPN or BTN. All three could have games going on the same time in that first window.”
These “timeslots” or “windows” or whatever you want to call them are the key. If 3 games get crammed into a noon eastern timeslot on the BTN, and most fans are only getting the primary BTN feed (and thus the game of the week), then lots of fans will miss lots of games.


In short, the BTN probably isn’t going to be all that it’s cracked up to be – at least not yet. Right now they’re talking about how much HD coverage they’re going to have, and how many games they’re going to show. But the bottom line is that is that if you’re a fan, and your team isn’t on your television, you’re going to be upset. And the way things are set up right now, this very well could happen to you this fall.

For months, people like me have been saying that we need to call our cable/satellite operators and get the word out that we want the Big Ten Network. And I still urge you to do so. But considering this “news” from the mouth of the President of the Network, I think that plenty of folks are going to get the shaft even if they do get the Big Ten Network this fall. You heard it here first – Big Ten message boards will be filled with posts like, “I thought the game was on BTN?! Why is MSU-Purdue on?!!!,” or, “It says turn to channel 72 for our game… There’s an INFOMERCIAL on channel 72!! Argh!!”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Blogger Ameed said...

Maybe the BTN is really just a front for all the Big Ten bars in major cities. If you cant watch your team on TV you wind up at the Big Ten bar of choice and are forced to be there for at least 3 or 4 hours; then you end up dropping a bunch of money on food and drinks.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good comments, many of which I share. However, I believe that the result will work as follows for the three categories of recipients:

1. DirecTV viewers. DirecTV views should be OK as it sounds like the BTN will make multiple feeds available. DirecTV is well equipped to handle this as they already have a half dozen of ESPN alternate feeds and a dozen or so Regional Sports Network (RSN) alternate feeds that can be shown simultaneously if there is a conflict. I would assume that DirecTV will do the same for the BTN as it doesn't really cost them anything to do so.

2. Cable Companies in Big Ten Region. Similar to DirecTV, these companies have multiple feeds for RSNs and could do the same for the BTN. The problem is that unlike DirecTV, cable companies are more reluctant to give up bandwith on analog tiers so although I am confident that they will carry multiple feeds for the BTN, I am less confident than with DirecTV.

3. Cable Companies Outside the Big Ten Region. The larger companies with a significant presence in the Big Ten region (e.g. Comcast, Time Warner, Mediacom) will likely carry the BTN on a digital basic tier. This has plenty of bandwith so I would expect that the BTN will have multiple feeds.

4. Dish Network Viewers. It is uncertain whether Dish Network will pick up the BTN. Let's hope for the best.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still have to buy the ESPN Gameplan if say the ABC game on October 13th between PSU and Wisconsin is not televised in my area (NYC/CT) rather, I get the Rutgers game since I'm in the Northeast.

That said, it will definetly be cheaper to pay the $20 a weekend for ESPN Gameplan then spend the full amount for the entire season.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems the Big Ten Network and Comcast has caught the fan in their cross fire. For those who switch cable or satellite providers I suggest diverting funds from your annual alumni contribution to defray the cost.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I blame the Big Ten for this mess because they are the ones who upset the status quo. Before they meddled, most "second tier" games were available on broadcast TV for fans to see. Now they either won't be available at all or I will have to shell out more to get them. I view this as another phase in the effort to transform free broadcast sports programing into pay for view. It is particularly aggravating to see state funded entities conspire to extract more money from the taxpayers. This is just wrong.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

University of Michigan is a Public University, the games should be on public airways. The university is looking greedy!!!!

9:43 AM  
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5:12 PM  

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