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Big 10 Network kicks off Thursday

No major cable operator carrying net

The Big 10 Network kicks off on Thursday, but no major cable operator is carrying it.

Comcast, the largest cable op, reaching 24.1 million subscribers, put out a press release Tuesday boasting about the fact that, even without the Big 10 Network, it will transmit 150 college-football games, including some of the best Big 10 matchups through ABC and ESPN, which get first choice of the most crucial games each week.

The reason for the impasse: Cable ops within hotbed Big 10 states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois say that the network’s demands are too onerous. The Big 10 insists on being placed on expanded basic with all of the other major cable networks, at a stiff monthly license fee of $1.10 a subscriber. The cable ops want to relegate Big 10 to a sports tier, which cost subscribers an extra fee. Very few subscribers pony up for these sports tiers.

Rich Greenfield, an analyst with Pali Research, said that the cable ops may be able to resist fan pressure and tough it out through November because the Big 10, like the NFL, schedules football games only once a week.

But when the Big 10 college basketball season begins in November, Greenfield said the pressure gets ramped up because multiple games each week are the norm. For example, the Big 10 Network will have exclusive coverage of 23 Iowa basketball games, 20 for Wisconsin and as many as 13 each for Michigan and Ohio State.

DirecTV, the only major distributor with a deal to carry the Big 10, plans to engineer an elaborate marketing campaign to get cable customers who love Big 10 sports to cancel cable and sign up for DirecTV to get the excusive games.

A significant loss of subscribers to DirecTV could drive some of the major cable ops to go back into negotiation and end up doing a deal for the network.

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