June 21, 2008

Charter, Big Ten Network Talk

By Bill O'Brien, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Jun. 21--TRAVERSE CITY -- It's too early to tell if a breakthrough cable television deal with the Big Ten Network will bring its sports programming to Charter Communications customers across northern Michigan.

Representatives of Charter and the Big Ten Network said Friday they're still in negotiations over a programming deal, on the heels of Thursday's agreement with Comcast Corp. that will bring the Big Ten Network to much of southern Michigan by mid-August.

"If the biggest cable company in the country and the one with the most at stake can get something done, that give us some hope we'll be able to reach an agreement with the remaining cable companies," said Elizabeth Conlisk, a spokeswoman for the Big Ten Network.

Charter spokesman John Miller said the two key hang-ups in negotiations is where the network would be placed in Charter's channel lineup, and how much the cable company will pay for the service.

"I don't know if anything will move because Comcast has an agreement," Miller said, although adding he's "very optimistic" that a deal will eventually get done.

The deal with Comcast will put the Big Ten Network on the system's expanded basic service in states with Big Ten schools including Michigan. After the 2008-09 basketball season, Comcast has the option to shift the network to its digital service.

Comcast also agreed to pay about 70 cents per subscriber to the Big Ten, which wanted $1.10 per customer.

"It's our position that if you live in the eight (Big Ten) states, you shouldn't have to pay extra to receive it and it should be on a widely-available level of service," Conlisk said. "That is something that is really important to us."

Miller wouldn't comment on whether Charter would agree to those parameters.

"There are numerous deal points to discuss," he said.

Miller said Charter's received numerous requests for the Big Ten Network, mostly when the network is showing football and basketball games.

"We heard from a lot of our customers during the football and basketball seasons, but we've heard very little since then," Miller said. "It shows you (the network) has very, very peak and valley appeal."

Miller also said customers surveys by Charter indicate subscribers understand the service issue and many don't want rates increased to land Big Ten programming.

"It's in our customers' best interest to negotiate the best deal we can on their behalf," Miller said.


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