The Big Ten Network is guaranteed to debut to mixed reviews tomorrow night.
Mixed, because some of you will be able to see it and some of you will not.
A spokesperson for Buckeye CableSystem said the local cable company would carry the BTN, starting at 8 tomorrow night, on Ch. 67 as part of its expanded basic service, which is Buckeye's standard package.
However, Time Warner, the big cable outfit that serves a number of suburban customers in the metro Toledo area (not to mention the vast majority of cable subscribers in Columbus, the home of a little ol' Big Ten school known as The Ohio State University), is still in discussions with the new network. And they are not necessarily friendly, stop-by-anytime discussions.
The Big Ten Network folks are insisting that any cable company carrying their new product offer it as part of its expanded basic service, as Buckeye is doing. Time Warner is one of the cable outlets - giants Mediacom and Comcast are among others - that would prefer the BTN be bundled as part of sports packages that are purchased only by customers interested in watching them.
The dividing line here is money, and lots of it. The BTN reportedly wants $1.10 per cable subscriber per month. The New York Times published a report recently saying there are 18.5 million cable subscribers in the eight "Big Ten states" and that the $1.10 subscription fee would realize $244 million, gross, per year for the BTN.
No wonder the Big Ten is insisting on expanded basic coverage. And no wonder Time Warner and others are hesitant to pass along such a big-ticket item to subscribers who are already paying top dollar for cable service.
The Big Ten Network's propaganda is that the league's "universities and teams are so much a part of their states it warrants [this] widespread distribution on basic cable within the eight-state footprint of the Big Ten."
The naysayers counter with their own propaganda, which basically says 83-year-old Phyllis watches the Discovery Channel and gets all the wolverines and gophers she cares for on Animal Planet. Why should she pay for something she doesn't want?
Phyllis will not have to pay for the BTN on Buckeye, at least not right away. Florence Buchanan, Buckeye's vice president forsales and marketing, said expanded basic rates won't change during the remainder of 2007. The cable company, which is owned by the same parent company as The Blade, has not established its budgets beyond that, she said, adding that "I can't speculate on what the future might bring."
We can. Buckeye has 137,800 subscribers, according to Buchanan, and at $1.10 per subscriber that would come to a monthly fee of $151,580, payable to the Big Ten Network.
The network claims it has entered into more than 75 deals with local cable operators that allow for no extra cost to consumers. We're guessing there was some wheeling-dealing involved - Buchanan wouldn't comment, saying any programming contract is confidential - to help launch the product in as many homes as possible. At some point, the $1.10 per-subscriber will kick in and you know as well as I do that no cable company, especially smaller, local outlets like Buckeye that prefer to operate at a profit, can afford to carry that big of a load for its customers.
The free-and-reduced lunch program will surely revert to market price. Time Warner and other biggies are trying to avoid that by forcing the BTN to offer itself as part of an a la carte menu.
The Big Ten Network is a joint venture of the Big Ten and Fox Cable Networks, which means News Corp., which means DirecTV is intimately involved and is offering the network on its basic tier. That's the hammer BTN holds over cable companies that might fear losing subscribers to DirecTV.
Truth is, BTN exposure shouldn't be up to a greedy network/conference. It shouldn't be up to giant cable companies holding its customers hostage. It should be up to you, the fan.