The Big Ten Network and Comcast have a history, and it hasn’t always been pleasant.
When the network launched in 2007, Comcast wasn’t one of its initial distributors. It didn’t carry the network until the next year.
Ten years later, the sides are at it again.
In April, Comcast removed BTN from its lineup outside the conference’s footprint. Now, if it can’t come to an agreement with the network before Sept. 1, the largest cable provider in the United States will pull BTN nationwide.
BTN president Mark Silverman still doesn’t understand why Comcast pulled BTN in non-Big Ten markets in the first place.
“There was no economic benefit at all,” Silverman said. “They did not save a cent by taking us down in the outer market. I don’t know what their reasoning is.”
Perhaps it was a shot across the bow in another carriage-deal negotiation.
“We provided our offer,” Silverman said. “We’re not asking them to do anything more than what any other provider is doing. My concerns and fears are as strong as they’ve ever been that they may have a desire to just not carry Big Ten football anymore.”
It gets worse. When the Big Ten expanded its TV package to Fox Sports 1, Comcast began paying a surcharge on its agreement with that network to carry those games. That deal also is set to expire. Viewers wouldn’t lose FS1, but Big Ten games would be blacked out. Fans would be left with Big Ten games broadcast only on ESPN and ABC.
Comcast vice president of communications Jack Segal provided this statement: “Comcast’s agreements with content providers, like the Big Ten Network, expire from time to time. We are communicating with the Big Ten Network about continuing to carry it after Aug. 31 and look forward to productive negotiations.”
BTN is trying to get the word out that Comcast subscribers might need to change providers through the website keepbigten.com. The network also enlisted Big Ten coaches to direct fans to the site in a video spot that appears on its digital and social platforms. Silverman said Comcast is the only provider threatening to pull the plug on the network.
Silverman, who also is the president of Fox Sports National Networks, believes BTN has proved its worth to providers.
“Whenever these deals expire, we have to have shown over the course of the deal that people watch us and people care,” he said. “People aren’t going to be willing to just continue to have a provider that doesn’t offer these games.
“If you’re going to be the dominant cable provider in the Midwest, you should be carrying the network that you’ve been carrying for the last 10 years and that has many, many viewers that are loyal Comcast subscribers.”
Viewers won’t miss BTN’s training-camp bus tour, which began Monday at Indiana and concludes Aug. 23 at Northwestern. The network visits Illinois on Aug. 21.
They also won’t miss all of BTN’s equivalent of HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” The show “Gold and Black Days: Inside Purdue Training Camp” debuts at 6 p.m. Tuesday, with two more episodes to follow. The third episode — which will include coverage of Purdue’s season opener against Northwestern — is Sept. 4, after the deadline.
BTN broadcasts of the Michigan State (Aug. 31) and Minnesota (Aug. 30) openers come before the deadline. But every other game is in jeopardy for Comcast subscribers. In an era of cord-cutting, Silverman believes such programming is vital to providers.
“I really feel in certain ways that networks like ours help give cable companies, ironically, the reason why you still need to subscribe,’’ Silverman said. ‘‘You need to be a cable/satellite or a digital-content subscriber [to watch live sports], and we can help those distributors keep their subscribers happy and present an offset to falling subscribers.”