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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Yeah, the post headers are broken in Firefox. Dunno why. Looking into it.

Everything about the Big Ten Network is productive. They have conversations which produce things. Not, like, agreements with major cable providers, sure, but expensive lunches, fan anger, and inexplicable fawning from Free Press employees. Mark Snyder's latest is... um... weird. I'd gotten used to Snyder as a news-guy who brings information and does not offer opinion, and now we have evidence as to why. His latest "blog" -- sorry about the scare quotes, but the Free Press doesn't even make any pretense, they just throw up a story and label it a blog -- is a stunningly Pollyanna thing that seems like it came directly from the mighty PR bowels of the Big Ten office.

Now is the time on Sprockets when we fisk.

The upcoming Big Ten Network is an outstanding idea.

From the moment it was announced last summer, it seemed ideal, filling a void that has existed since the explosion of cable televised sports in the past decade.

Wait... what void? Virtually every Big Ten game of import is televised nationally on ABC or basic cable. Basketball fans can catch any game that's not against Maryland-Baltimore County or equivalents on local syndication. Anyone out-of-market can buy ESPN's Gameplan for a reasonable price and get every game his team plays. The 95% of Big Ten fans who don't care about hockey should have absolutely no quarrel with the current state of coverage.

The next few months will be rocky if the large cable deals aren’t signed. Fans will start to worry about missing college football games and likely blame the network.
...yes, they will. Because it will be the network's fault. This is the ideal blame situation, when you can blame the thing that is at blame.
But that will be a temporary blip and Silverman knows it, that’s why his patience is impressive.
Justification for this is... what? His "patience" is impressive? This sound exactly like "we are not going to be on cable this fall" spun 180 degrees. Bill Martin wants to end the ND series! Patience is a virtue when it comes to getting on basic cable, because Lord knows we don't want to rush into something like having people watch our channel. I have patience, too. It expires the first time Michigan is shoehorned onto the Big Ten Network and I have to scramble to find it.
The network’s long-term future should withstand any early frustrations because, unlike CSTV and ESPNU, the Big Ten will have significant content from the start.

Guaranteeing at least two appearances by every conference football team was perfect. That way they’re not debuting with only second-tier events and appear legitimate. Much like the NFL Network's securing late-season football telecasts, fans will chase their teams wherever they are -- as long as they don’t have to pay extra for the privilege.
This is terrifying to me. In the latest chat on the Big Ten Network's official site:
Question: If we have already contacted our local cable provider and they have told us that they have no plans to carry the Big Ten Network this fall, what are we as fans to do at this point? Comcast is telling inquiring customers that they have no plans to carry the network.
Posted By: Tom from East Lansing, MI
5/24/2007 12:49:01 PM
And wait... perfect? Much like the NFL Network's brilliant plan to force cable operators to carry them by getting exclusive rights to a few NFL games? That worked so brilliantly that the NFL Network got on basic cable... nowhere. And they're charging 70 cents instead of the preposterous $1.10 the Big Ten Network has been demanding.
His track record includes launching the ESPN Zone restaurant chain -- an unqualified success -- so he has a feel for the people‘s wishes. That’s why he plans to be available with online chats at, including the first one this Thursday at 1 p.m.
Online chats! This is definitely on the right track!
What the network realizes, and is lost on CSTV and ESPNU, is that college sports rarely have national appeal during their seasons. Only at the very end -- with college football being the lone exception -- do fans care about more than their conference and their team.
What does that even mean? CSTV and ESPNU are low-cost, no-access channels with no compelling programming, granted. Given that "patience" is now being espoused, it appears that the BTN will be a high-cost, no-access channel with compelling programming like Michigan-Appalachian State. Both situations suck, but only one is suffused in the gasoline of hubris, ready to be lit aflame in fall when football fans can't get the games they would have if this channel did not exist. I thought the whole point of the Big Ten Network was to increase access to Big Ten sports to fans; the way this is going there will be a net decrease. Fewer games will be shown nationally. Each team will have two games relegated to a regional cable ghetto.

Snyder makes no sense here. The big draw he has just espoused is football. He praises the Big Ten for "understanding" the provincial nature of college sports and their lack of widespread appeal mere paragraphs after praising the Big Ten for creating "compelling" programming by... locking away football games.
The Big Ten Network brass already understands the challenge of stability is for a long-term deal, not simply a rush to line it up for Sept. 1. That’s why they’ll wait until they can reach the widest audience possible.
We are screwed. The Big Ten Network understands that they can force cable providers into a deal they don't want to accept because they're obviously more important than the NFL.
Silverman and his staff will hear your complaints. They just may not deserve it.
Yeah... wow. An embarrassing shill job.

About this chat thing. It's totally awesomely useful:

negotiations are moving along very well with all satellite and cable providers.
You say you have reached an agreement with 40 cable companies. Which companies are these.

these agreements will be announced as the contracts are signed over the next few weeks
We have heard that the Big Ten Network will be a good thing because it gives fans more access to Big Ten programming. However lets say you are unsuccesful with distribution and only people with DirectTV can see it. What are your plans in this case so millions of loyal fans in the region don't miss games.

we are working hard to make sure all big ten fans can see their teams play. It is very early in the distribution process and we are making great progress with distributors.
And this... is just... I don't know what it is:
Question: Will you show video's of boys climbing ropes. I used to really like that about gym class and would love to relive the moments. I mean there's nothing like a good old time rope climb to lighten the spirits. I do say I'd really enjoy a show about boys climbing rope
Posted By: Billy from Cicero, IL
5/24/2007 12:18:55 PM

Mark Silverman - Big Ten Network President's Response: we will have 35+ HD football games, well over 100 HD basketball games, not to mention olympic sports and women's sports.

Question: I am pessimistic about your negotiations with Comcast considering their history with sports networks, i.e. a long delay to add FSN Detroit HD, moving ESPN Classic to digital, moving NFLN to the sports tier, not including ESPNU and CSTV in the sports tier, etc. Why should I be optimistic?
Posted By: James from Detroit, MI
5/24/2007 12:22:15 PM

Mark Silverman - Big Ten Network President's Response: we think the big ten network has a unique appeal that doesn't compare with other networks. we have over 40 cable deals agreed to on terms that we think are fair and reasonable and we believe we will continue striking agreements as we continue.
What is the possibility Time Warner Cable will carry The BTN? We have not had much success getting them to carry NFL Network, so I have concerns they won't carry the BTN either.

we have had very productive conversations with time warner and all cable/satellite providers.
Myself and a lot of friends have Dish Network. We are die hard Illinois Fans and we want to be able to see all the games. how close is Dish Network to signing the Big Ten Network?

we have had productive conversations with dish network.
Well, all my concerns have been assuaged.

This has disaster written all over it. When the Big Ten Network was announced, I thought it was a great idea given the following assumptions:
  • The existing ESPN-ABC setup, which is very kind to the Big Ten, would remain untouched.
  • Football on the network would restricted to Michigan State-Indiana, Illinois-Northwestern, and the like, giving those mediocre games a place to go other than ESPN+ syndication.
  • The network would, like, you know, be available.
In an outburst of stunning hubris, the Big Ten has horned in on the ESPN distribution, in some weeks grabbing the second-best game available, guaranteed that every team is exiled to purgatory at least twice, and made demands not even the NFL could pull off. Even basketball coverage will get hurt if they maintain their exclusivity and don't get on basic cable, as ESPN+ syndication that got those games on locally will evaporate.

There's still time for the BTN to find itself on cable providers. And as long as I get it, even on a digital tier, I'm fine with that. But if it is relegated to the CSTV/ESPNU land of satellite-only access, there will be a conniption fit here and across the Big Ten region, and it will be deserved. Silverman's vague claims of productivity and "40 cable providers" seem intentionally misleading, which makes me think that things are going poorly. Snyder's breathless praise of Silverman's "patience" -- not a virtue in this situation -- makes me think things have reached an impasse and that the public rhetoric is changing in preparation for an August controversy.

google image search + "sweet pig justice" == guinea pig Damien

It's times like these I wish we were all Arkansas fans, because nobody screws with Arkansas fans without some sweet pig justice coming the other way. Heck, you can get to the SEC championship game and still receive sweet pig justice. They're itching to dispense it. If we were Arkansas fans, Jim Delaney would be hiding out in an Afghani cave and Mark Silverman would be a quivering hobo trying to trade sneaky rhetoric for booze. Also we would be really into fishing, if my one brief visit to a Natural State gas station/restaurant/fishing supply store is any indication. But wouldn't have to deal with this.