SBJ/September 19-25, 2011/Media

Big Ten goes to CBS for digital network

The Big Ten Network has signed a multiyear deal with the CBSSports.com College Network to create the Big Ten Digital Network, a portal for official websites of 11 of 12 conference schools as well as for the conference and network themselves.

Before the deal, the Big Ten Network and individual schools had managed their digital rights separately, and fans were generally required to buy two separate content subscriptions if they wanted to see all available live games online from a particular school. Now, one joint Big Ten Digital Network subscription, priced at $14.95 a month or $119.95 a year, provides access to audio and video from all 12 schools and more than 500 live events a year not televised by the TV network. BTN.com, a site held by the Big Ten Network, has been redesigned and will serve as the hub for the new digital alliance.

“There was a definite confusion factor among the fans that we’re really addressing in this deal,” said Michael Calderon, Big Ten Network vice president of digital and interactive media. “It makes much more sense to combine all of our efforts, all of our resources, and have one consumer product out in the marketplace.”

Other major conferences are going through similar exercises to centralize their digital rights. The SEC partners with XOS Digital for the SEC Digital Network. Schools in the Pac-12 are turning over their digital rights to the conference beginning next year. A new digital platform, part of the conference’s evolving in-house Pac-12 Enterprises, will carry live games and other content.

The ACC is also working on a digital network with Raycom Sports to make all of its live streaming events available through one portal. The ACC tried a similar move in 2006-07 with ACC Select, but that effort died quickly because member schools wanted live events to drive traffic to their own sites as opposed to ACC.com. Now, the trend continues to move in the other direction.

There will be a significant advertising component in the pact as sponsorships will be sold across the entire digital network. The individual schools, Big Ten Network and CBSSports.com College Network will share in advertising sales, and be able to sell across the entire network. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the subscription and advertising revenue generated through the new alliance will be shared among the involved parties.

The one element not included in the network is the official athletic department site for the University of Nebraska, huskers.com. Nebraska, in its first year with the Big Ten, is aligned with NeuLion for management of its website. CBSSports.com intends to pursue those rights and bring the school fully into the network once the current deal expires in 2013.

Before the deal, CBSSports.com had been managing the official sites for nine Big Ten schools, and then aligned with Ohio State and Minnesota in June to get up to 11.

“We’ve now got a situation where we can really leverage the network’s and the schools’ audiences and offer much more choice and much more value to both fans and advertisers,” said Rob Schupler, CBSSports.com College Network senior vice president of university sales and marketing.

The Big Ten Network is 51 percent owned by Fox, but officials for the channel said there was no issue with striking such a deep partnership with a division of rival outlet CBS. Fox Sports Interactive Media is not heavily involved in the hosting and management of college athletic websites.

“This is about doing what’s best for the network, and everybody involved is on board with that,” said Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman.

Staff writer Michael Smith contributed to this report.

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