SBJ/September 3-9, 2012/Media

Big Ten Net targets international market

The Big Ten Conference launched its own channel five years ago, becoming one of the first college conferences to control its own TV outlet and spawning a media strategy where college conferences and schools have looked to launch networks of their own. After two years of bruising carriage negotiations with local cable operators, the Big Ten Network — jointly owned by Fox and the Big Ten Conference — has grown to be the most successful college conference-owned channel so far.


Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman sat down with SportsBusiness Journal media reporter John Ourand in New York last week and talked about ways the network can grow in the next five years.

What’s the Big Ten Network going to look like five years from now?

The network needs to broaden its BTN2Go streaming product, Silverman says.
Photo by: ICON SMI
SILVERMAN:
The iPad didn’t exist five years ago. So five years from now, who knows how people are going to be consuming their content? They’re going to be watching it any which way. We’ve really focused the last couple of years on our BTN2Go streaming product. We need to broaden that out. It needs to be more cohesive. We look at it as Big Ten content that lives everywhere, not a Big Ten television network, a Big Ten digital network, a Big Ten BTN2Go product. We need to make sure our programming is available no matter how our viewers want to watch it. Every year it gets more important because the number of people sitting down and watching television is shrinking.

Where else do you see growth potential?

SILVERMAN:
We’re really focusing on growing internationally. BTN2Go is launching internationally. You can go to BTN2Go.com, and whatever country you’re in, you pay your fee and you’re watching 24 hours of BTN. It’s on your computer, your iPad, your iPhone, your Android. It’s fully there. We’re working with all the alumni associations of all the 12 schools to be able to promote this package. The way to get distributed internationally is different. You’re not going to get widespread international distribution on cable systems. What we can do now, via the Internet, is become available to hundreds of millions of people on whatever device they want. I think it can be a big moneymaker for us as more people get to know about it. We plan to have tens of thousands of subscribers to this by the end of our first year and to significantly grow it over the next two years.

As we talk, the Pac-12 has launched channels, the University of Texas has launched a channel, the SEC is looking into it. What is Big Ten Network’s legacy in this space?

SILVERMAN:
Certain brands have a strong enough and a large enough fan base that can enable them to do it. With us, it was a marriage of two really strong partners in Fox and the Big Ten. The Big Ten brand is big enough. There are enough people that wanted it that made the difference to have distributors carry us. If you’re smaller or more narrow, it’s going to be much more difficult for you to be able to achieve what we were able to achieve. Perseverance is important. If you’re not willing to deal with some struggles and some challenges, you’re not going to be able to succeed. Jim Delany and Fox persevered with us and believed in it and were able to see it through.

Can a college conference exist today without a TV network?

SILVERMAN:
I don’t think a television network is necessarily the right answer for every conference. Each conference has to do what’s in its own best interest. The Mountain West tried to do a network and it obviously didn’t work. It wasn’t the right idea for them to do a network. For the Big Ten, having a network is a great benefit. We’ll see what happens with the other major conferences.

What’s been the biggest surprise for you in the five years since launch?

SILVERMAN:
I did not think that our network was going to end up having such an impact on realignment. Once we got the network done, a lot of the seismic change came from conferences thinking, “How can we maximize our value, either in television rights or launching a network.” The irony is that was never what the Big Ten was about. All these other conferences look to do that to maximize television dollars.

What will the college landscape look like five years from now?

SILVERMAN:
I don’t believe the Big Ten is going to be any different from where we are currently. All of us realize that at some point, it can’t escalate at the rate that it has been escalating. It has to slow down at some point. I don’t know when that happens. It feels like we’re not done in this realignment.


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