Comcast, Big Ten Network are near a deal

Posted: March 13, 2008

Comcast Corp. and the Big Ten Network have reached broad compromises in the bitter negotiations that kept many of the conference's football and basketball games off millions of TV sets, according to people familiar with their agreement.

The Philadelphia cable company has agreed to carry the Big Ten Network on its expanded-basic tier or on its digital tier and no longer is threatening to stick the Big Ten Network in a specialized sports package that costs viewers an extra $5 a month, they say.

The Big Ten Network, launched in August 2007, is jointly owned by Fox Cable Networks and the consortium of 11 colleges in the Big Ten Conference, such as Pennsylvania State and Ohio State Universities.

Big Ten Network officials have said the Comcast sports package, with about one million viewers, would not generate sufficient revenue to support live sports programming.

They contended that Comcast was aiming to cripple the network because the cable company did not hold an ownership interest in it. Both sides spent heavily on advertising their positions last fall.

Comcast had said the Big Ten Network was too specialized for its broadest service levels, which reach nearly six million subscribers in the eight states with Big Ten teams.

Officials from Comcast and the Big Ten Network said the two sides were negotiating and close to a deal, but they warned that the talks were sensitive and that snags could develop. A final deal could be weeks or months away, they say.

The Big Ten Network said it would charge less than $1 per subscriber for the network. Details have not emerged about the subscriber fee, which would be paid by Comcast and considered a programming expense.

A Comcast official said a deal with the Big Ten Network would have no bearing on its dispute with the NFL Network, which is now carried in a sports package. The NFL Network has sued Comcast to relocate the network to a digital tier.

"We continue to talk, and we continue to make progress. Other than that, we cannot comment further," said Big Ten Network spokeswoman Elizabeth Conlisk.

"We continue to negotiate with the Big Ten for an agreement that is fair for our customers," said D'Arcy Rudnay, Comcast senior vice president.


Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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