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Buckeyes blacked out
Network-cable fight keeps Ohio State off TV

BY DUSTIN DOW | DDOW@ENQUIRER.COM
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Saturday vs. Youngstown State

Sept. 8 vs. Akron

Sept. 22 vs. Northwestern*

Oct. 13 vs. Kent State*

*If the BTN doesn't carry one or both of these games, a game later in the season will be carried. Northwestern and Kent State, however, are the two most likely candidates for the BTN because the three other available TV games, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan, are likely to be picked up by ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.


Who carries BTN in Ohio?
DirecTV: 16 million nationwide

AT&T U-Verse (available in Akron and Cleveland area): 51,000 nationwide

Buckeye CableSystems: 150,000 subscribers

Wadsworth: 3,700 subscribers

Horizon (Chillicothe): NA

New Knoxville: NA

Insight Communications: 650,000 subscribers, but only those in Central Ohio will get the channel on expanded basic cable. Northern Kentucky customers get it on a digital tier.


Who doesn't carry BTN in Ohio?
Time Warner Cable: 2.3 million in Ohio, 14.6 million nationwide

WOW: 360,000 in Colorado, Ohio,

Illinois, Indiana and Michigan

Comcast: 5.7 million in the eight Big Ten states

Charter: 5.7 million in 29 states,

including Ohio

Cox: 6.7 million nationwide, including Ohio>


What do you think?
The high-stakes gamble between the Big Ten Network and major cable companies is leaving most Greater Cincinnati Ohio State football fans in the dark, because Time Warner does not carry the Big Ten Network here. What is your take on this situation and the possibility of other conferences starting networks? Visit Cincinnati.Com. Search: conversation


By the numbers
39: Football games televised by the Big Ten Network

140: Men's basketball games televised by the Big Ten Network

18 million: Cable subscribers in the eight Big Ten states

$237 million: Annual potential revenue from Midwest cable subscriptions if the Big Ten Network got the $1.10-per-subscriber fee it seeks

$100 million: Annual revenue the Big Ten gets from an exclusive deal with ABC/ESPN that gives ABC first choice of football games, ESPN second choice in nine of 12 weeks and ESPN2 third choice in six of 12 weeks

3: Weeks in which in the Big Ten Network gets second choice of football games

6: Weeks in which the Big Ten Network gets fourth choice in games

Nearly 100: Cable operators the Big Ten Network claims to have reached deals with in Big Ten States

16 million: DirecTV subscribers who will get the Big Ten Network

5.7 million: Comcast subscribers in Big Ten markets who won't get the Big Ten Network

2.3 million: Time Warner Cable customers in Ohio that won't get the Big Ten Network




The Big Ten Network debuts nationwide today with a robust schedule for 39 football games, 140 men's basketball games and round-the-clock coverage of the most popular college sports conference in the country. Guess who won't be watching: most of the 18 million cable subscribers living in the eight Big Ten states, including 650,000 Time Warner Cable subscribers in Southwest Ohio.

The high-stakes gamble over billions of programming dollars between the Big Ten Network and major cable companies has not ended with today's launch. It has only intensified, drawing the attention of the rest of the college sports industry while continuing to keep games off television sets. Last season's unavailable Ohio State-Indiana game on ESPNU could seem like a minor irritation to fans who might miss 18 Ohio State football and basketball games on the Big Ten Network.

"We knew it'd be like this," Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman said. "The big deals always come down to the last second. I'm feeling pressure to get it done now. It's not looking likely that it's going to happen soon with Time Warner."


? What is your take on this situation and the possibility of other conferences starting their own networks?


The network came to a late agreement Wednesday with Insight Communications, which will bring the games to digital cable customers in Northern Kentucky. But for Greater Cincinnati fans north of the Ohio River, four of Ohio State's first seven football games could be unwatchable here to anyone without DirecTV satellite service unless Time Warner and the BTN come to an unforeseen agreement. DirectTV is owned by News Corp., the parent company of Fox Cable Networks, which owns 49 percent of the Big Ten Network.

Fans of other leagues, such as the Southeastern Conference, might want to pay attention. The Pacific-10 Conference, Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference are considering following the Big Ten's lead.

The trade publication Sports Business Journal reported Aug. 20 that the SEC is aligning with Comcast to potentially roll out an SEC network next season. Comcast is the largest cable company in the country and the most vocal opponent of carrying the Big Ten Network on expanded basic cable, thereby framing the war against emerging third-party sports channels. Big Cable wants the BTN on a premium-priced sports tier. The Big Ten Network wants to be on expanded basic - just like ESPN - to tap into maximum advertiser and subscriber revenue. Wednesday's Insight deal was split, with the BTN agreeing to be placed on a digital tier in Northern Kentucky in exchange for placement on expanded basic in central Ohio.

"If you look at programming costs of cable operators, 25 percent of their programming costs are for two channels, ESPN and Fox Sports Networks," said Derek Baine, a media analyst for the research firm SNL Kagan. "Most people have 100 channels, and a quarter of your bill is from two sports channels whether you watch them or not.

"So of course cable companies are going to try to push these new sports channels to tiers, which isn't a big deal for a rabid fan willing to pay $20 more per month. But it makes the business model difficult for networks not on expanded basic."

Baine contended that momentum of networks such as the Big Ten Network could lead to more specialization. He theorized that ESPN and others could offer a lower-priced version for expanded basic cable and an enhanced version for a sports tier.

The Big Ten Network didn't start this process. It responded to the likes of ESPNU and CSTV, college sports channels that preceded it following a niche model of the NFL Network.

In 2005 and 2006, ESPNU televised 27 Big Ten football games. But hardly anyone could watch them. Major cable companies such as Time Warner refused to put ESPNU on expanded basic, and ESPNU refused to be packaged in a sports tier (sound familiar?)

"All our schools, including Ohio State, had ESPNU debacle stories," BTN spokesperson Elizabeth Conlisk said.

So the Big Ten partnered with Fox Cable Networks to form the Big Ten Network and take back control of those games, and possibly share more than $200 million in cable fees per year. The BTN is asking for 10 cents per subscriber outside of the Big Ten's geographic footprint and $1.10 within the eight Big Ten states. Silverman said that figure is negotiable and technically hasn't even been offered to Time Warner or Comcast.

In the meantime, the Big Ten signed a 10-year, $100 million-per-year deal with ABC/ESPN, which gives ABC the right to choose first which football games it wants to televise each week. The Big Ten Network chooses fourth six weeks, third three weeks and second three weeks, prompting cable operators to label the games as "second- and third-tier."

"We know other sports leagues are watching these negotiations to see how things turn out," said Time Warner Cable spokesperson Karen Baxter. "The idea that expensive sports channels could be crow-barred onto our standard lineup is scary."

And so a stalemate has evolved. Close to 100 small cable operators in Big Ten country have agreed to carry the network, but until Wednesday's Insight deal, the largest among them was Buckeye CableSystems in Northwest Ohio, with 150,000 subscribers. Negotiations involving Time Warner, the nation's No. 2 carrier, are ongoing. Talks broke down with Comcast, which has almost one-third of the cable subscribers in Big Ten country - 5.7 million - and leads the nation with 24.1 million subscribers.

A report issued by Pali Research, though, suggested that cable operators would be wise to include the Big Ten Network on expanded basic by basketball season or risk losing stock value. It also charged that Time Warner and Comcast occupy contradictory positions because both operate sports networks on expanded basic cable, such as Comcast's Versus network.

Meanwhile, ESPNU debuted Wednesday on Time Warner in Greater Cincinnati - on a "Digital Value Tier."

And the games people were missing in 2006? They still won't see them. But now they won't see more of them on the Big Ten Network instead of on ESPNU.