With the season getting closer to the first kickoff the Big Ten Network and Penn State are on a tour to spread the word about the remaining pockets in Pennsylvania and Ohio without coverage of the network on cable providers. Now that the big boys of Comcast and Time Warner have been on board all eyes are set on Blue Ridge and Armstrong Cable.
Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman hosted a luncheon with Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley in Lancaster today before heading out to Youngstown, Ohio for a joint event with representatives from Ohio State. “In the Youngstown area you have Ohio State fans, you have Youngstown fans and you have Penn State fans so we have all three of their opening games in a 48 hour period,” Silverman says. Satellite providers are aggressively attempting to lure cable customers not currently receiving the Big Ten Network by advertising the conference’s own sports network.
Armstrong is not budging on an issue that is nothing new for the Big Ten Network.
“Am I optimistic we’ll have a deal for this season? No,” said David Wittmann, Armstrong’s vice president of cable marketing. “The No. 1 thing we’re told every day by our customers is that they want us to keep the price of basic cable low.”
Silverman claims that the Big Ten Network is an affordable asset for any cable provider and backs it up by saying that the market demand for the network is there. The Big Ten Network is available in some way in each of the 50 states in the country and is even available outside the country. “We’re in Beijing, we’re in Frankfurt, and we’re in Chile,” said Silverman in a report by Joe Scalzo of The Vindicator in Youngstown. “We’re not in Youngstown. I think that’s a problem.”
Penn State opens the season against Youngstown State and the game is scheduled to air on the Big Ten Network. Youngstown State and Penn State in the Youngstown area will not be able to watch the game if they are an Armstrong Cable customer.
The Big Ten Network’s argument all along is that the network should be provided on a basic cable plan instead of on any premium plans. Armstrong has offered to add the network on a digital tier or as a standalone pay channel similar to HBO, but Big Ten Network believes accepting that deal would cause a ripple effect through their current partnerships with other cable, and mostly larger, cable companies. After working so hard to establish a working relationship with companies like Comcast the potentially deadly move to upset the cable provider would be a bad decision.
“They raise their rates every year regardless,” Silverman told me Thursday in regards to cable companies disputing the cost of providing the Big Ten Network to customers. “The network’s been on for three years and you raise your rates anyway. It doesn’t work.”
In Pennsylvania the primary focus is on convincing Blue Ridge Cable to pick up the network. Blue Ridge Cable provides cable access to 175,000 customers in Carbon, Schuylkill, Monroe, Berks, Lehigh and Northhampton counties. Silverman said that this region is the largest pocket in the state of Pennsylvania that still does not have the network. The Youngstown pocket in Ohio is the only area of concern without coverage of the network.
Here is something to think about as the Big Ten is set to expand next year. With Nebraska being added to the mix it is very likely that the Big Ten Network will carry at least one more Penn State game starting in the 2011 season as ABC and ESPN and the Big Ten Network select which games they will carry. When ABC and ESPN get a chance to pick their games before the Big Ten Network the chances will increase that a Penn State will get another game available for the conference’s network.
Does your cable provider carry the Big Ten Network? Feel free to share in the comments section.