June 20, 2008

Comcast Deal Has Others Hopeful

By Marc Morehouse, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Jun. 20--The Big Ten showed some major flexibility in its deal with Comcast and Mediacom hopes that flexibility will carry over to its negotiations with the conference.

The Big Ten Network and Comcast, a Philadelphia-based cable carrier, announced a multiyear agreement Thursday that previews programming on expanded basic cable Aug. 15 in states with Big Ten schools: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio. Comcast doesn't have systems in Iowa, the eighth Big Ten state.

In spring 2009, Comcast has the option to move the network to a "broadly distributed digital level of service" on most of its systems in these states. Outside these states, Comcast can move the channel to its Sports Entertainment Package and other tiers.

This is a concession on the Big Ten's part, according to Phyllis Peters, Mediacom communications manager.

"Essentially, the Big Ten has offered Comcast something they have never offered Mediacom, which is something we've advocated all along and that's flexibility," Peters said Thursday. "Last year, throughout all the months, it was take it or leave it type of negotiation." BTN officials have been insisting their programming be placed on expanded basic cable services. Cable companies like Comcast and Mediacom objected to those terms, contending that the network belongs on a sports tier so only those wanting the programming would pay for it.

According to the Associated Press, Comcast has agreed to pay about 70 cents per subscriber to the Big Ten, which had sought $1.10. It's the first major cable operator to agree to carry the network.

Peters called it a "hopeful sign" for Mediacom, Iowa's largest cable provider.

"A long time ago, we showed that we were willing to consider all kinds of options on where it's placed," Peters said. "It's hopeful now that some of that flexibility is seen in this agreement. We hope it will extend." The Comcast-BTN deal comes with Big Ten football season a little more than two months off. Peters said there will be "heightened or renewed" negotiations between BTN and Mediacom from now to August.

The BTN has agreements with 88 cable television outlets in Iowa. BTN also has distribution agreements with the nation's two largest satellite companies, DirecTV and Dish Network.

"My peers in the Big Ten Conference believe the Comcast agreement -- like all theagreements that preceded it -- clearly demonstrates the Big Ten Network's flexibility and willingness to reach an agreement where everyone benefits," Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said in a news release. "I remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached (with Mediacom)." BTN is owned by the Big Ten Conference and Fox Cable Networks.


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