Two stories for the price of one...
First, the controversy, as reported in the New York Times...
Tempers Flare as Discussions on Big Ten Network Heat Up
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
Published: June 23, 2007
The Big Ten is angry at Comcast. And Comcast is angry at the Big Ten.
The conference needs the cable operator, the nation?s largest, to carry its fledgling network. The Big Ten wants Comcast to carry its network on expanded basic cable, but Comcast said it should be on a digital sports tier.
On Thursday, Jim Delany, the Big Ten?s commissioner, demanded an apology for remarks by David Cohen, a Comcast executive vice president, that he believed denigrated women?s sports in an article about the network published Monday in The New York Times.
Delany was actually responding to a ?myth vs. reality? sheet circulated by Comcast that questioned widespread viewer interest in paying to watch for example, Iowa volleyball, which is played only by women at the varsity level.
In the Midwest, Delany said during a conference call, women?s sports teams are discussed ?with respect. They?re not second-tier games.?
He added, ?Now, perhaps if they owned the network, we would be getting a different treatment.? Comcast owns Versus, the Golf Channel and several regional sports networks, which it carries on its own systems on expanded basic.
The article and the fact sheet stated that the Big Ten Network would carry ?second- and third-choice? games, which it will. The selection process gives ABC the choice of games each week. The Big Ten will have second choice in three of the 12 weeks, the third selection after ESPN during three weeks, and the fourth choice after ESPN2 in the other six weeks.
Cohen responded to Delany later Thursday with a letter in which he questioned his integrity over what he called ?mischaracterizations and overstatements.?
Last week, cable operators including Comcast received a letter from David C. Preschlack, an executive vice president of the Disney and ESPN Media Networks, that sought to clarify that the quality of games on ABC and ESPN would be unaffected by the Big Ten Network.
?All I can say is we?ll have more Big Ten games than anyone,? Mark Silverman, the Big Ten Network?s president, said in an interview yesterday. ?I?ve never said anything comparing our programming to ESPN and ABC?s.?
He defended the channel?s pricing ? a monthly subscriber fee of $1.10 in the conference?s eight-state region and 10 cents everywhere else.
SECOND.... a story from an Ohio State website...
Delaney Adresses Big Ten Network
By Marcus Hartman
Special to Scout.com
Posted Jun 22, 2007
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the announcement that his conference would form its own television network, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany held a teleconference to better crystallize what he envisions the undertaking will be.
During the media session, which lasted nearly 90 minutes Thursday afternoon, he also updated the status of negotiations with major cable providers and managed to get in some shots at critics.
Though the rising of temperatures in the Midwest this spring has coincided with rising tensions among fans worried they might not be able to watch their favorite football teams often this fall, the focus of this announcement was to emphasize the broader scope the network plans to encompass.
Rather than using football and men?s basketball to concentrate on squeezing as much money as it can from network partners such as ABC, ESPN and CBS, Delany explained the conference?s presidents opted more than a year ago to form their own vehicle to market and air the Big Ten?s content, a plan that allowed the conference to keep control of it all.
?Content? was a word Delany returned to over and over, explaining the purpose of the network was to take what the conference did best ? play championship-level athletics in a variety of sports ? and air it across the country.
Thus, the same week the network announced an opening three-week schedule with 17 football games, Delany revealed plans to have women?s athletics represent 50 percent of the network?s programming by the third year.
?The Big Ten has an incredible history of supporting gender equity and today?s announcement signals our continued dedication to women?s athletics,? Delany said.
He added that 40 percent of programming in the first year is slated to involve women?s athletics and told the assembled media the Big Ten has a strong history of supporting gender equity.
Delany said in 1992 the Big Ten was the first conference to initiate a five-year plan for conference members to commit to a 60-40 percent male to female student-athlete participation, a goal that was achieved as a conference in 1997 and by all schools individually by 2000.
He added that over the past five years, the Big Ten has maintained on average a 53-47 percent male to female participation ratio, and since 1992, Big Ten institutions have created in excess of 2,000 new opportunities for women?s student-athletes and established 28 new women?s teams.
While old broadcasting agreements called for networks to air around 10 Big Ten women?s athletics events per year, the Big Ten Network could air as many as 200 per year by 2009-10.
?We consider the female athlete to be an integral part of this network,? Delany said.
Ohio State women?s basketball coach Jim Foster said he sees the new network as something that could elevate the women?s game the way WGN Superstation enhanced the profile of DePaul in the late 1970s and early ?80s.
?What excites me about the Big Ten Network is the opportunity for women?s basketball to be treated with a great deal of respect, in terms of how it?s marketed and promoted, and how it?s talked about,? Foster said.
In addition to the gender equality announcement, Delany revealed an alcohol-free advertising policy for the network. That move, like the one to vastly increase the number of hours of women?s athletics programming, is one designed to reflect the values of the universities that make up the Big Ten and the eight-state region in which they reside.
?We?d like to be a healthy, holistic network that fits well with universities and that resonates not only with our fan base and alumni but also people in the Midwest and then others who have interest,? Delany said.
?I know when our presidents first started considering this idea they said, ?How can we be in this business?? I said, ?Well we are in this business. The only difference is we allow other people to massage the brand and create it and use it.? I said, ?If you own it, you won?t be as critical of others because you can just look in the mirror and find out who is responsible for it.? ?
The conference?s move to create its own channel has certainly drawn out its share of critics already.
Delany took time in the conference call to specifically request an apology from Comcast, one of the cable giants the Big Ten is at odds with over distribution and cost of the network.
Comcast reportedly released a statement referring to the channel?s intended programming as "second and third-tier sporting events,? and calling the BTN, ?a niche sports channel.?
However, the part of the statement that really got Delany riled up was the claim, ?Indiana basketball fans don't want to watch Iowa volleyball, but the Big Ten wants everyone to pay for their new network.?
"I don?t know how that goes over on the East Coast, but in the Midwest, when you're talking about a women's sports team, you talk about them with respect," Delany said. "They're not second tier. Certainly, games at Michigan and Penn State and Ohio State ? I don't care who the opponent is, those are not second-tier games.?
He went on to call for an apology from the company for denigrating Big Ten student-athletes.
Perhaps surprisingly, Delany confirmed the $1.10-per-subscriber asking price the BTN is seeking in the Big Ten?s eight home states, and he reiterated that cable companies in those states must include the network in its basic channel lineup in order to carry it at all.
Though he expressed unhappiness that some of the more acrimonious aspects of the negotiations with Comcast had become public, Delany said he does not expect that to happen with any other company.
Despite the lack of deals with many major cable providers, there is no sense the network is behind schedule.
?I was told by all of the experts and all of the advisors not to expect any major distribution deals on June 21 or even July 15,? he said. ?If anything were to happen, it would happen later in the summer or maybe after the launch.?
Finally, the commissioner named August 1 ? the first day the Big Ten football coaches, players and media will gather in Chicago for the annual football kickoff luncheon ? as a potential date to begin telling fans to pressure their providers into picking up the channel or consider switching to a service that does carry the network.
?If (fans are) inactive, they aren?t doing what they can do to show their interest,? he said.