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Sports Business

BTN, Comcast deal near

May 2, 2008
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Sources close to Comcast Cable and the Big Ten Network said an agreement to put the yearling network on Comcast’s expanded basic in 94 percent of Big Ten country is imminent. While both sides officially say there is nothing new to announce, sources familiar with the negotiations said an announcement could come as soon as mid May.

Key concessions were made on both sides to bring the deal together in the past six weeks, sources said. The Big Ten Network is expected to be airing on Comcast throughout Indiana in time for football season.

An official for Fox Cable Networks, which is part owner of BTN, told IBJ that a deal likely will involve Comcast paying “somewhat less” than the original BTN asking price of $1.10 per subscriber in  Big Ten country. Outside the Big Ten area, the channel will likely go on a sports or digital basic tier, the source told IBJ. BTN had sought to have the channel on expanded basic nationwide.

Comcast has a history of passing whatever costs it incurs in acquiring a channel on to customers, but there is no indication from the Philadelphia-based cable giant how it will handle BTN’s costs.

The Big Ten Network launched in August, but unless viewers have a satellite dish, most can’t tune in. Many Indiana and Purdue fans—along with others around the Big Ten—became outraged that they couldn’t see many of their teams’ games. Several schools initiated petition drives to put pressure on Comcast. As complaints mounted, sources said Comcast couldn’t ignore those pleas for the channel. The Big Ten too was getting its fair share of complaints, not only from fans, but from coaches such as Michigan State’s Tom Izzo who called the entire situation a mess.

While BTN officials are not as close to a deal with Time Warner Cable, the other major provider in Big Ten country, sources expect the Comcast deal to accelerate those negotiations.
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