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Sports Business

Big Ten Network war takes toll

June 18, 2008

BTNdoneIt appears that the Big Ten Network’s fight with Comcast Cable is about over.

IBJ reported May 2 that sources close to Comcast Cable and the Big Ten Network said that an agreement to put the yearling network on Comcast’s expanded basic in 94 percent of Big Ten country is imminent. Now, IBJ is hearing that an announcement will likely come next week.

That means it’s time to evaluate the winners and losers. It’s easy to argue that the biggest winners are Big Ten fans in Indiana and across the Midwest who will again be able to watch their favorite teams’ football and basketball games on TV.

But what about the BTN and Comcast? BTN originally asked for $1.10 per subscriber in Big Ten country. Sources familiar with the deal said they’re settling for 70 cents per subscriber.

The channel is set to be offered on the expanded basic package in Big Ten country, not the digital sports tier where Comcast wanted it located. The two sides are still wrestling over a provision in the multi-year contract that could allow Comcast to move the channel to a digital sports tier after 2009. Those digital tiers, as you might have imagined, can be mighty lucrative for cable providers—if they have the content to make them attractive.

Fox Cable Networks owns 49 percent of the BTN and has been throwing its weight around to get this deal done. Fox’s payment to BTN assures that most Big Ten schools will get at least $10.2 million annually from the deal, but BTN’s willingness to take less money per subscriber could hurt the schools' financial take long-term.

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.

So, what do you think? Who are the biggest winners and losers in this deal?
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