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July 22, 2007

Q&A with the Big Ten Network President

With the Big Ten Network set to debut on August 30, network President Mark Silverman took the time this weekend to answer many of the questions that Indiana and other conference team fans have been wondering about.  Check out our complete Q&A:

Q - For quite a long time Indiana basketball fans have been able to watch most every game that IU plays on television or at least had the opportunity to watch each game.  Many are now concerned that might be in danger with the new network....

One of the key attributes of the network is that we are bringing a significant amount of Indiana and Big Ten coverage.  Every Indiana game, every basketball or football game will be nationally televised with the one caveat being a regionalization early in the season when there are several games going on at once.  It might not be full coverage across the country for football.  It is a significant amount of more games.  I know in the past there have been many Indiana football games that were not even televised and now not only are they televised, but they are going out.  They are going to be to a large extent across the country.

Basketball games I know for the most part have been on, at least locally, but now we are able to take all those games and they are on across the country.  I know the coaches that I have talked to about this network are thrilled that recruits they are looking for across the country are going to be able to see every game.  They are going to be able to get a much better sense of the program and improve the recruit aspect that the school is looking for.  We think it is going to be a great benefit to Indiana and everyone we have talked to at the university agrees.

Q - It really sounds like Indiana football fans will be seeing more of their Hoosiers....

If I had to guess, I can easily see seven games.  Maybe five to seven, possibly even eight games this year on the Big Ten Network.  The Indiana game at Western Michigan in week two the conference doesn't own rights to, but other than that game, every other game is a potential one if it is not picked up by ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.  So I am assuming a number of Indiana football games.  So I think you are right, they are definitely going to receive a huge benefit from being on our network.

The benefit is just not the added games it is the analysis, more highlights, interviews....I just think we are going to be able to expose the program in a much more in-depth manner.  I think it will be for a school like Indiana that has been more looked at as a basketball school to hopefully give football more of an opportunity to improve its stature across the country. 

Q - How aggressive might the network be in covering some of the lower profile non-conference basketball games?

Those games that nationally might not have that huge of an appeal, we look at those games understand still about IU basketball and the appeal it has in Bloomington, Indianapolis, and we are excited to put those games on the air.  I know you can't get enough of these games.  Every game that Indiana plays will be produced, every game that Indiana plays will be aired.  If there is a conflict for basketball, we will regionalize like we are doing for football. But I really don't think there will be many instances like that because the conference has really been working with us.  For example instead of having two games on at the same time on a weekday night pre-conference, we would rather stagger the start times and show both.  The number of games that we will be airing has been creeping up because the more we learn that we are going to be able to air two games instead of one pre-conference, we are going to do it.  Whether it is an Indiana game or Michigan game, people in those markets are going to want to see their teams, so let's air both.  Right now we are looking at airing 120 games versus the 105 games initially.

Q - A lot of people want to know where things stand with Dish Network right now?

With Dish Network we are in very active conversations.  I would characterize them a little different than some of the other guys I am sure you are going to ask me about.  But we are in conversations with them and hope to get a deal done shortly.

Q - Is that a little easier negotiation than with some of the larger cable companies given the way a satellite broadcaster is structured?

I don't think that is why.  We have had more productive conversations with Dish than for example with Comcast.  I don't think that is why, I think it is just that for whatever reason...Comcast is the biggest and they act in a certain manner and I think it is more about how they go about their business than the way Dish goes about their business.  I really don't think it is about the specific platform.

Q - Comcast, Time-Warner and Bright House, those are the three cable companies IU fans have asked most about. Can you add more on that front?

We have talked to all of them and at this point they are really under the lead of Comcast. Comcast because they are such a large player.  Everyone I think is kind of looking at Comcast and seeing what happens there. Some of the momentum has been slowed as a result of some of the more public comments that Comcast has been making.  Where we are with Comcast is that they are insisting on us being put on this expensive sports tier that none of their nine owned networks that are sports related are on. We feel on one side they have created this bundling business model where they take 60 and 70 channels and they bundle them together and sell it for a price and all their networks just always happen to be in that bundle. They make some distinction if they don't own your network, and in my mind massively more relevant content, they have decided to create a new model just for us.  They don't adhere to it or put their networks on it.  All of a sudden overnight they are trying to position themselves as out there for the consumer.  As long as they are going to maintain this....frankly I think they are trying to confuse the consumers in what sounds like a right message that when you pull back a minute amount you realize how crazy what they are saying is. 

Basically what they are saying is if Comcast owns a network, it should be broadly distributed. Then this other network that has 12-14 Indiana basketball games, 6-8 Indiana football games, the Indiana men's soccer team which is one of the best in the country year in and year out, all these classic games and overall is so much more relevant than the Golf Channel or the Versus Channel. But those are networks that they own, that they keep in basic and now they are saying our networks are going to be out on some sports tier, which is such a non-starter and wrong and that is why we tell people.  The reason I am doing these (interviews) is I don't think people understand the situation.  I don't think a lot of this has been properly communicated.  I think you will see why once you understand the full situation, why we are saying what we are.

Q - You have promoted that you will "overflow" broadcasts available when there are Big Ten games on simultaneous but will these cable outfits outside the area of that Big Ten school not getting the primary broadcast take the step of showing that team's games on one of their overflow channels?

We are offering it up to all of them.  DirecTV has said they are going to carry these games.  If you get DirecTV they are going to put on all these overflow channels.  As far as the other cable operators, we are offering it up to them and they have that same ability.  If they want to put on all these games for their consumers---and we are not asking for a penny more or anything different. Whatever we are offering DirecTV we are offering to anybody.  We hope that they carry it.  I want to be able to have the fans like the network and want access to it and we are doing all we can by regionalizing and providing overflow games, providing VOD (Video On Demand) stuff. Anything that we can do to get these cable operators to say okay and carry the network.  Hopefully they will realize that these other games for these fans that are out of market, that they have a strong appeal and hope that every cable operator carries them all.

Q - The number of $1.10 per subscriber has been thrown out there in some news stories as to what you are asking, is that correct and consistent among the carriers?

It is our policy not to comment specifically about the number.  I can tell you that the price we are asking for the network, obviously that number has been reported widely, it is and this is another thing Comcast has done so well, the reality of what we are asking for in price, in the eight state region what we are asking for in price is in the general ball park of what you are mentioning---it is less than a third of what Comcast charges for their own regional sports networks.  Comcast Sports Chicago is I think about $3.75.  Comcast Sports Philadelphia is I think $3.50.  There is a new Portland Trailblazer network that Comcast owns and it is 50 Portland Trailblazer games, nothing else and that's two bucks.

I think when you look at the market and that is all you have.  I hate it when I talk to people and they say "it just sounds like a lot."  What sounds like a lot is not really the market---what is fair?  There are networks out there considerably more expensive than what we are asking for and they are not offering HD and they are not offering overflow games and they are not offering VOD content.  I look at it and feel people need to understand a little more information here so that they can get a better sense of where we are coming from here on these issues.

Q - Talk a little bit about how much HD content you hope to have in the first year or so here..

We hope to have 75% of all live events in HD.  Our studio show will be in HD and well over 1,000 hours (in total).  We are going to have more HD content on our air in our first year more than any other network in television history.

Q- Is that because you are starting fresh and can get that kind of camera equipment to begin with?

I think that is part of it.  Part of it though is a commitment to do it.  It costs more money.  It is more involved, you have to hire more people. There are certain people who can do it and certain people that can't.  It is a combination of commitment, infrastructure which I think is your point and cost. You need to be able to deal with all that.  I think running a Big Ten branded network that is called the Big Ten has to be taken very seriously and I want to do all that I can to make this great.  I think in a sports network being HD helps you get on the road to becoming great.

Q - And to be clear, you are asking to be included in basic cable only in the Big Ten states?


Q - Then with a Comcast or these bigger cable companies, are you not really concerned as much with how they package it outside these states?

Outside of the eight states we are very open to how this network is distributed.  The cost is significantly below anything that is pretty much out there.  There are at least 60 channels more expensive than what we are looking to do out of market.  Then in market we are significantly less than comparable regional sports type networks.

As we talk to big operators and some of this has been mischaracterized, we are flexible on carriage outside and are a very inexpensive network outside our footprint.  We feel again what we are offering, if people really understood the full picture, is quite reasonable.  One of the reasons why I am still confident we will get these deals done is they are.  I think the more people understand that it will obviously make them look at the Big Ten Network in a different light.

Q - You have been promoting that you will show a lot of "classic" games from the past. Do you have a pretty good library to choose these from?

We have several thousand games in basketball and in football that we are now reviewing.  We have just selected which football games we are going to be airing our first year and we'll start looking at the basketball games as well.  It is a huge library of games.  It is one of the more fun things I do, go see some of the classic games that are in there.  In addition to having them air on our regular network, we are thinking it could be a great VOD component on your cable system where you could have a bunch of games.  If there is nothing on TV, how great would that be to just flip through the list of games and then just starting watching a game?

I think it has a great appeal for Indiana basketball in particular.  Just like Michigan and Ohio State football.  These are the kind of things we are trying to talk about with the cable operator and hopefully it will all come to fruition at some point.

Q - With Comcast announcing it will buy Insight, does that change things with your Insight negotiations?

In my opinion I think it does. At this point it seems as if we are going to have to negotiate with Comcast and Insight in tandem as opposed to separately.  So in a way that has changed the dynamic there.

Q - Anything else you want people to know before our time is up here?

I guess the only other point is we are at this place where I am being asked a lot of what people can do.  And then that is where some people are like well you shouldn't have to have people call or email.  But other than that there is not a whole heckuva a lot to do.  We are trying to work it out but what does seem to have impact and what I believe is a little bit of what is happening here.....because most of these companies are not based here in the midwest.  Comcast is based in Philadelphia.  Insight was based out of New York, MediaCom is based out of New York, Time Warner is based out of New York.  I don't think they get the appeal of Big Ten sports.  How broad it is, how rabid it is.  All we can do is try to help them understand that this stuff is really important, there's a huge fan base and there's a desire here to get this network on the air.  I think that is the only element I wanted to mention.


Get more questions answered: Big Ten Network FAQ

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