BIG TEN NETWORK
The first of the current college conference networks, Big Ten Network launched before the 2007 college football
season. Owned 51 percent by Fox and 49 percent by the Big Ten Conference, BTN went through bruising public battles with the country’s two biggest cable operators, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which did not carry the channel for the first year. Now, the network has become so established that the conference’s addition of Rutgers and Maryland barely caused a ripple, even though Comcast (Washington, D.C.) and Time Warner Cable (New York) had to move the channel onto an expanded basic tier this year. Given the Big Ten’s deep relationship with Fox on the channel, it will be interesting to see what kind of challenge Fox poses to ESPN for the Big Ten’s broadcast rights, which are up in 2016.
When the Pac-12 launched its seven channels — one national channel and six regional ones — before the 2012
college football season, it was considered an instant success. The conference signed carriage deals with Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox and eventually added Dish Network. Two years on, however, and the network’s distribution story does not look as good. DirecTV has not signed a deal and does not appear close to getting one done. And the cable operators have not rolled the channel out to their entire subscriber base. Unlike the other conference channels, Pac-12 Networks does not have a media partner on the channel, which puts more of the risk — and reward — on the conference’s shoulders.
Launching this month to more than 75 million subscribers, SEC Network is set up to be the biggest cable channel
startup in history. The channel is part of a 20-year deal between ESPN and the Southeastern Conference, which runs through 2034, and will produce 45 football games, 100 men’s basketball games and 60 women’s basketball games each year. More than 1,000 events in total will be broadcast on the linear TV channel and digital platforms. The channel’s launch will go across all of the nation’s biggest distributors, including satellite operators DirecTV and Dish Network, plus top cable operators Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter.
The conference gave its member schools the flexibility to launch their own channels rather than trying to start a
conference-branded channel. Big 12 schools have the right to exploit any home games that are not picked up by conference TV partners Fox and ESPN. That has resulted in several university launches. Texas launched the Longhorn Network before the 2011 college football season. Oklahoma is one of six schools that has sold branded blocks of programming to Fox Sports’ regional channels. ESPN pays Texas $300 million over 20 years for the rights to launch the Longhorn Network. Meanwhile, Fox pays Oklahoma $58 million over 10 years. Kansas tried a different approach, creating branded programming for Time Warner Cable’s sports channel, which will result in the broadcast of more than 50 events this year in the KU footprint.
With a footprint that includes 43 million TV homes — the biggest such footprint among all college conferences —
the ACC already has made moves to shore up its rights, with an eye on starting a network in the next three years. The league signed an agreement with all 15 of its schools to grant their TV rights to the ACC, providing the stability and the content for a channel. It also renewed its media rights deal with ESPN worth nearly $4 billion through 2026-27. The deal includes all game inventory, digital rights and corporate sponsorship. The challenge to an ACC channel rests in a couple of sublicensing deals ESPN signed to give games to Raycom and Fox regional networks. That game inventory likely would be needed to start a network.
College writer Michael Smith and editor Tom Stinson discuss what the SEC Network means to the conference's schools as it gets ready to launch.