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Big Ten Network Focusing on VOD

Sep 14, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Now that it has finally scored carriage deals with most major cable operators, the year-old Big Ten Network is turning its attention to video-on-demand and other forms of new media.
Since VOD was an important selling point to Comcast, which broke the Big Ten cable logjam by signing on in June, football Saturdays are very busy at the network’s Chicago headquarters.
In addition to producing as many as five games each weekend, Big Ten Network is providing Comcast and other cable operators with 70 pieces of video-on-demand content each week, mostly clips from games and coaches’ shows, as well as full-length programs, that are quickly processed, turned around and made available to subscribers on-demand the day after they air.
If there’s a big game, like last year’s stunning upset of Michigan by Appalachian State, Comcast has the right to make a replay available on-demand, even if the contest first aired on ABC or ESPN, which also have rights to some Big Ten events.
Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman said the network’s VOD output exceeded what any other channel makes available to operators. It also is providing the VOD content in both high-definition and standard-definition formats.
Since the Big Ten owns 51% of the network (Fox Cable Networks Group owns the rest), “We have complete new-media rights, as well as television rights,” Mr. Silverman said.
He plans to expand aggressively into broadband and mobile. In essence, the network is helping to set the conference’s new-media strategy at a time when sports rights are becoming increasingly valuable as viewing of other types of programming becomes fragmented and devalued by the effect of digital video recorders.
“This isn’t just a TV network,” Mr. Silverman said.
Still, the network is doing much better on TV than it did last year, when it traded nasty comments with cable operators over which party was responsible when fans couldn’t watch their favorite Big Ten teams play.
Now, with the new cable carriage—in addition to Comcast, the Big Ten Network added Time Warner Cable, Charter and Mediacom just before the start of the football season—distribution is up by 30% from last year in the eight-state region where the conference has schools.
Viewership is up 2½ to three times for football games, as best Nielsen can figure it out so far, Mr. Silverman said.
During the first Saturday of the football season, 35,000 people went to the “Game Finder” tool on the network’s Web site to find out what channel Big Ten games were on. (The network has no idea yet how many subscribers are getting the network outside of its footprint, where operators have the option to put it on any tier they choose—or not carry it at all.)
In addition to new subscription revenue, ad revenue will be up. The network based its sales on the idea that two of three of its cable deals that went down to the last minute would be completed. With all three deals getting done, the network is over-delivering on its guarantees to advertisers.
New advertisers this season include Nissan.
Big Ten Network also sees better ad opportunities on VOD because of the way it turns around content so quickly. Most VOD ads are attached to the content by the network, which sends it to the cable operator monthly, giving the ads little urgency. But because Big Ten is posting fresh content every week, advertisers who want to highlight specials and sales can get their messages up and down efficiently, said Michael Calderon, director of new media at the network.
Big Ten soft-launched its new VOD content on Comcast Aug. 28. The user numbers are just starting to come in from Rentrak, which tracks video-on-demand, he said.
Big Ten is customizing its VOD offerings by creating individual folders for each of its 11 member colleges.
Some operators may opt to provide only the Ohio State folder to its subscribers in Ohio, but many Comcast systems are planning to make all 11 folders available under the Big Ten Network heading in the VOD menu, according to Mr. Silverman.
In its first year, with most subscribers watching via satellite, VOD wasn’t a big deal.
Beginning with basketball season, Big Ten Network plans to begin streaming 100 sporting events—including hoops, softball, baseball and wrestling—over the next 12 months, up from 10 in its first year.
Those 100 games will be produced on a much cheaper basis than the 400 it will produce for broadcast, mostly in high definition. Web production costs are about 10% of broadcast because of the use of less expensive talent, fewer cameras and other savings, he said.
Games on broadband will be offered free, supported by advertising. Each Webcast may have a relatively small viewership, but aggregate them and you get a decent, enthusiastic audience that should be attractive to advertisers, Mr. Silverman said.
He said one challenge facing the network was doing too much too soon, while maintaining a level of quality.
He doesn’t plan to begin offering a mobile service until next football season. Talks are ongoing with providers, he said.
Mr. Silverman said that as a new network, Big Ten isn’t as concerned about getting all of its viewers in one place at one time, the way traditional broadcast networks did. It’s embracing the new multiplatform way that programming in general and sports content in particular is being distributed.
“We’re happy to jump in with both feet,” he said.

13 Comments

  1. I watvched the Penn State-Indiana game on the Big 10 Network on Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 12:00 PM EST. One of the ads was for a home based business opportunity. Unfortunately I did not get the name of the business opportunity and all I got of their email address was http://www.35...
    At your earliest convenience, could you please email me the company name and their full email address so I can check them out. I would greatly appreciate it.
    Besdt regards,
    Ed Ludwick

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